An Audio-Book Review: Backwards, Into the Future!

Armageddon 2419 A.D.

By Phillip Francis Nowland

Two recordings published by Librivox

Read by Alan Winterrowd and by Megan Argo, Phil Chenovert, Kevin W. Davidson, Peter Hornacek, Malcolm Cameron, Arnie Horton and Mike Pelton.


The Story:

Here’s an interesting one for you. This is an SF novella from the 1920’s that, together with its sequel, The Airlords of Han, was later reworked into “Buck Rogers.” That is interesting by itself (although it is not quite Buck Rogers yet) , but the story-telling is a fascinating form that lies somewhere between the style of Jules Verne and ancient writers of fantastic fiction and the stories that comprise the corpus of modern Science Fiction.

Having read and listened to the early forms of fantastic fiction, I have come to realize that most, if not all, tend to be travelogues. The bulk of the stories (the entirety in many cases) involve people traveling to other lands and other worlds in which they encounter people whose lives and cultures are completely unlike anything they and their readers have ever encountered. The stories spend nearly all of their verbiage describing how life is lived in those exotic locales and sometimes describe how they managed to get there and back too. However, there is very little plot involved. The entire point is to describe a different sort of life, frequently opposite to anything the reader knows.

Verne did manage to slip some plot into his stories, but even so, many involve traveling to exotic places and seeing how life is lived there. Around the World in Eighty Days, for example, Spends most of its time going from place to place even though we also have the story of Phileas Fogg trying to win a bet with Detective Fix chasing him down for suspicion of having robbed the Bank of England. Much of Journey to the Center of the Earth talks about the places Verne’s characters go en route to Iceland (including Iceland) and then talk about the inside of the Earth in the same manner. Plot? Well, yes there is a plot, but far more description. Off on a Comet does not even worry about how they got there. Verne just says a comet crashed into the earth taking bits of the Earth and some inhabitants away with it. The plot is thin and the characters are all racial stereotypes. Some of his other stories have more plot to them, yes, but even then you can see his ancient predecessors’ influence on his Nineteenth Century fiction. This is not a criticism, really. It is just the way fantastic fiction was written back then.

Armageddon 2149 A.D. is about half travelogue and half story. More modern SF and fantasy spends more time developing the characters and plot, but this is definitely a transitionary piece of fiction showing us where the art was at that time.

In this story Anthony Rogers (later named Buck when the story was adapted into a daily comic strip) suddenly finds himself over five hundred years in his own future. How he does it is by getting trapped in a mine and breathing a mysterious radioactive gas which keeps him in some sort of stasis until he wakes up breathing fresh air. Now… what’s wrong with this picture? It’s worse science than the idea of Spiderman gaining his powers when bit by a radioactive spider, but I can forgive Nowland. In the 20’s who knew. It seemed radioactivity could do anything if used correctly. I think he must have been at least slightly acquainted with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity since some of his future people had ways to convert matter directly into energy and vice versa. He obviously had no idea of the amount of energy that might be involved and had no idea that it had to go somewhere, but he had that as an idea.

Still, this was the beginning of Buck Rogers and an early modern future history. Too bad he got almost everything wrong. That is a danger in future histories. A writer wants to create a plausible timeline starting with his own present and extrapolating possible future events until the point in time his story takes place. Well, people are not really all that predictable and future histories almost always go awry as time passes. In a well-crafted future history, a reader won’t really care if you thought the Soviet Union would last a thousand years or if Charles De Gaulle was voted President for Life in post-World War II France. Stranger things have happened and continue to do so.

In this case from his 1920’s perspective, Nowland foresaw a time when Imperial China would rule the world. How would he know that Mao Zedong would change all that? Forget about it and just go with this Chinese (who he sometimes describes as Mongolians) dominated world. He calls this the Han Dynasty of America. The Hans have a civilization with airships and disintegrator rays while what is left of the Americans have rockets they ride as well as a fantastically strong and invisible metal called Ultron. Actually as I listened I kept thinking the Americans (who at the outset are portrayed as somewhat backwards) are actually rather advanced even if only Rogers seems to know how to use any of their weapons effectively.

However, Nowland didn’t get everything wrong. He did accurately predict remote drones, Telecommuting, Paratroopers and night-vision equipment and bazookas. He predicted wireless phones, e-commerce and even red-spot (laser?) aiming on hand-held weapons. Not bad even if he kept talking about the Hans in what must have been a bad pun with Huns (who originally came out of Asia, not Germany.

The story is a bit thin and heavy-handed with American patriotism. I don’t mind patriotism, but this has a sort of racial aspect (white vs yellow… As far as I can tell there were no black or brown characters involved) going on and it had a very strong tone of racial superiority in it as well. (On the other hand, it inspired “Duck Dodgers in the 24 and a Half Century”) All this, however will not keep me from listening to the sequel when I have a chance. Stay tuned.

The Audiobooks:

As I often do when there are two or more recordings of a shorter work, I chose to listen to both of Librivox’s offerings. I think the one by Alan Winterrowd was the better of the two. Mister Winterrowd may not be a superb reader, but he is a very good reader. He put in just enough emotion to keep me interested and only once went into an annoying strange vocal ism and that was the fault of the writer, not the reader (a character was talking between huffs and puffs and Nowland wrote those huffs and puffs into the dialogue… it was annoying in both editions). I could definitely stand to listen to many more books read by him.

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An Audio-Book Review: My Country… Funny or Not!

America: The Audiobook

By Jon Stewart

Published by Time Warner Audiobooks

Performed by Jon Stewart and the Cast of “The Daily Show”


The Book:

The Good News: This is a very funny and very entertaining book. Fans of Jon Stewart and of The Daily Show over the years will most definitely enjoy it. The Bad News: It could have been a classic. It could have been America’s answer to England’s 1066 and All That. Sadly, while it is good, funny and eminently entertaining, it will never be a classic parody of American history. Why not? I’ll explain.

First of all, some readers may never heard of 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates. It was written by W.C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman and published back in 1930. I first became aware of it when I took a college course on English History and after the first exam, my professor read the answers from the appropriate pages of this book. It is a delightful mixture of half-remembered and mixed up facts blended in with just enough actual history that will ring bells in the minds or anyone who has ever actually studied English History. It’s a lot of fun and I recommend it.

In subject matter, America: The Book: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction (and The Audiobook, although I have not actually read the Book I understand there are some differences since the Audiobook is a performance) is quite similar to 1066 and All That except that is involve American History. Mister Stewart does not so much mix up facts, although he does play with that here and there. His real achievement is that he has written what is, beneath all the jokes, a book on Civics that every high school student should be required to read.

There are even occasional side notes from Samantha Bee, giving us the Canadian versions.

So why won’t this be the American 1066? Unfortunately, Jon Stewart and his fellow cast members just could not leave out the profanity. The book sounds more like a night club performance. I realize the cast was cutting loose without the restraints of their network censors, but it demoted what could have been a true classic to a mere best-selling parody. Too bad, but proof-positive that the fallout from an F-Bomb is at least as long-lasting as from an A-Bomb.

However, for all its lack of classic status, this is a very enjoyable book and one anyone with a knowledge of American history and politics coupled with a sense of humor should appreciate.


The Audiobook:

I am a long-time fan of Jon Stewart and I admit that I despair for America now that we are having a Presidential election without his pithy barbs thrown nightly at every bloviating candidate with speeches deserving to be punctured with extreme prejudice. I sore miss the way he examined and exposed the obvious weaknesses of politicians and I really miss the fact that, unlike most professional TV newspeople these days, he rarely let a question go unanswered. If someone attempted to side step or talk about something else, he just kept asking. I liked that. It made him arguably the best interviewer on all Television. Sad that distinction has to go to a comedian, but maybe that’s why he could get away with being tough.

I so miss his version of the show that I have been toying around with writing a socio-political rant blog of my own. Stay tuned, I might just do that… Then again, I may regain my sanity… (if I ever had it)

So even though this particular book is over a decade old, it remains topical in today’s political cycle even if the issues have shifted. What he and the cast covers in their usual entertaining manner are issues that keep recycling anyway. It’s not an issue this year, just wait a bit… it will be back.

To repeat, while I was saddened that the book could have been truly great it is still very, very good and the performance is fun to listen to.

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An Audio-Book Review: They’re Out There!

In the Ocean of Night

By Gregory Benford

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

Read by Gary Tipton


The Book:

I have only read a few of Benford’s works so I was not really sure what I was expecting from this staple of the Science Fiction genre. What I found in In the Ocean of Night was a typical example of hard science fiction   from the third quarter of the Twentieth Century. Since that’s when it was written, that should not be a surprise to anyone, least of all me.

This is the first book in Benford’s series, “Galactic Center” and according to it is, “A classic novel of man’s future and fate, written by the eminent American physicist and award-winning author of ‘Timescape.’” Yes. That is about right, but it leaves out a lot. It examines one of the most common scenarios in Science Fiction, the possible nature of alien life and how an encounter between it and humanity might go.

Before I go on, allow me to say that Mister Benford writes hard SF as good or better than anyone. Definitely he’s a heck of a lot better at it than I am. I don’t even attempt true hard SF as I try to follow the basic writer’s rule, “Write what you know.” However, I have to think that this particular book is not how he got his reputation.

My first impression was that it was incredibly episodic. When I looked the story up on-line I discovered that it had begun life as a short story and that explains a lot. When a short story, or even anything shorter than a full novel, is expanded into a novel there are a number of ways to do it. You could take the basic story, insert a few extra incidents and perhaps have the character talk about what they do when not doing whatever it is in the story. You can add different characters or bring in ones that are mentioned but get little or no page-time (like screen-time in a movie). You can also tack on a prologue and then continue the story after the actual short story and I think that is what happened here.

The problem when you continue on from where you left off is that most well-written short stories come to a definite and, hopefully, satisfying end. Sometimes just having he characters wake up the next day (or next decade) and go on with their lives can seem forced and, as in this case, can turn into a string or loosely tacked together episodes.

The end result was that the pacing of this story was jerky. It might have been better as an anthology of short stories which, for the most part, it really is. My main complaint is that it kept feeling like the story was just beginning and just as something happened it would all stop and start over again, there was very little attempt to flow from one episode to the next. A reader might be better served to read only one chapter per day.

On the plus side, Benford came up with some very thought-provoking alien intelligences and a manner of exploration by artificial intelligence that had a semblance of possible realism although it lost credibility points with attempts to use Bigfoot as proof of ancient alien contact. The obsession with Bigfoot (especially when a tribe of Bigfoots actually appear) was just too much to add into an otherwise reasonable story. However, as I recall Bigfoot was a fashionable fiction accessory at the time this was written (Well, gee, Ma! Everyone is doing it!) so maybe it just makes the story dated.

The story has a lot of good thought behind it even though the characters themselves were not particularly interesting – they were flat short-story characters; the sort you do not really get to know in only eight thousand words unless you want to dispose of the plot.

However, it was interesting enough to make me want to read the next book which, if my research is correct did not start out life as a short story.


The Audiobook:

The readers for the Library of Congress’s Talking Books can be a rather mixed lot. Many if not all of them are volunteer. Even the professional readers are volunteers. Keep in mind this is a program that produces audiobooks for the blind and physically handicapped and being a government-run program, they often have to go with whoever they can get.

In this case, I think Gary Tipton did a fairly good job. His reading is not outstanding; it does not sparkle, but it is a good solid reading without any of the commonly annoying traits I so often complain about. I certainly will not shy away from any other audiobooks he has narrated.

So, the story has a good solid hard SF basis but could have been better developed. However, I think Mister Tipton’s reading is what saved it for me.

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An Audio-Book Review: Hey I Can See My House from Up Here. Oh wait…


By Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye

Published by Audible Studios

Read by Noah Michael Levine


The Book:

This is the eighteenth book in the Myth-Adventures series. Sadly, this was also the last of the Myth-Adventures that Bob Asprin was alive to co-write. It has got its plusses and minuses and, happily, there are more plusses. Let’s start with the minuses and then I can spend the rest of this review in praises.

Our intrepid authors slipped a comic beat right from the start and gave away the entire premise of the story and did so with a lame pun. Why, after all this time, Skeeve and Aahz can’t smell a dishonest huckster from several Bazaar stalls away I will never understand and Samwise the Imp is obviously as crooked as they come. The reader must certainly understand that even if the heroes of the tale once more prove their utter gullibility. Okay, let me get to the point.

Just a few sentences in, Samwise (so named because his mother read “the classics” As yet another side note I must take exception to using the name of a well-known fictitious character for another character who is completely the opposite in almost all ways. This is not really the nod to The Lord of the Rings the authors obviously intend but actually a besmirching of one who might be the most noble character of the series so it grated a bit every time this one showed up… but I am getting distracted… again…) explains he is building pyramids in a dimension that turns out to be a mix of every Egyptologist’s clichéd nightmares. At this point, only a few paragraphs into the book I moaned, “Oh no! Not a pyramid scheme joke!” and sure enough, fifteen seconds later Aahz uses the phrase himself. I am incredibly bad, most of the time, at being able to predict how a story is going to go, so when I am successful it is most often because the author(s) were beating out the story with the famed “Sledgehammer of Subtlety.”

Even worse a minute after proclaiming he would have nothing to do with any cockamamie pyramid schemes, Aahz buys in and agrees to start selling lots in the pyramid, or rather in Pyramid Phase 2. And even though he balks when Samwise pulls the old bait-and-switch on him he still dives in head first (but at least he makes a deal for the very top of the pyramid). I think I was most annoyed that Skeeve not only allowed Aahz to fall for this, but supported him when Aahz some the rest of their company M.Y.T.H. Inc on the deal as well. Folks, friends don’t let friends get suckered in by obvious con jobs. I felt that was very out of character for Skeeve. I can see him standing up for Aahz no matter how deep into trouble Aahz gets, but he really should have at least expressed far more distrust of Samwise and his scheme. He should have expressed at least as much distrust as the narrative claims he was feeling.

In fact, Aahz fell into it so quickly and smoothly that I really thought it was going to turn out that Samwise had cast some sort of compulsion spell on them, but no. Skeeve and Aahz are just amazingly susceptible to the old B.S. It’s a good thing they aren’t in our dimension to view this year’s political campaign.

Okay, that was my major complaint. It’s a shame it tainted the rest of my enjoyment of the story because it really was not a bad story. It was not as funny as some of the early Myth-Adventures, but light slapstick adventure and sometimes tired puns have become the hallmark of the series. If you can accept that, then this really was a pretty good story. Certainly the plotline was well crafted and while for the most part I could see where it was all headed, I did not anticipate the path it followed to get there.

There were a few details where a touch more subtlety (such as the block that was probably telling Skeeve’s own life story – Sledgehammer time again, folks) might have served the authors better, but this has never been a series in which subtle humor has had a chance to catch its breath.

The action is good and once they finally got past the first few chapters the pacing is excellent. My only other complaint involved Skeeve getting dating tips from Tanda and Bunny. Wasn’t this mine tapped out years ago? Also, the “Kid” still sounds like he is the teenager he was in the first book, but even by the most conservative estimate he has to be in his mid 20’s by now. One thing I really admire int his series is how, unlike a TV sitcom, each story builds up on the ones that came before it (I however am sick to death of the pop-up advertisements telling us how wonderful those previous volumes were each time an earlier adventure is mentioned. Please! It was mildly funny the first time back in book two or three, the joke wore out years ago) so Skeeve and his friends are normally capable of learning from both their successes and mistakes.

However, that does mean time has passed. Even though some stories have led directly into the next and sometimes two stories take place concurrently, the time involved in each story has built up, but it feels like Skeeve is still the gawky teenager he was in Another Fine Myth even though he has been through the dating scene. Somehow in this he rarely learns. Well some guys never learn, I suppose, but I expect more from the hero. So the whole dating subplot came off as contrived only to extend the story long enough to call it a novel.

However, as I said, in all this is a well-crafted plot and a fin-to-read story. If you are a fan of the series, I do not think you will be disappointed. This is one of the better ones.


The Audiobook:

Why do they keep letting Noah Michael Levine narrate these things? When he isn’t bombarding his listeners with over-the-top funny voices, he actually reads quite well, but it seems he just cannot help himself and his vocal choices are frequently hard on the ears. Portraying Aahz like a crotchety old Jewish man from Eastern Europe, by way of Brooklyn, is so hard to take and his fake Marilyn Monroe voice really does not suit Tananda who should sound more like a vamp than an ingénue. I suspect that because it is supposed to be a comedy and a fantasy, Mister Levine is intent on making it sound like a cartoon. Maybe that might have worked had Mel Blanc chosen the voices.

I would like to further go on that the next time I hear the word “Djinn” pronounced “Deegin” I will scream, but to be completely honest I have already screamed a few times when hearing it. Doesn’t he realize that to pronounce it that way drains any meaning from the pun on “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair” which was used several books ago in this series (yes, he read that one too). It might have worked had he pronounced it “DeeGeen,” but, no. It was “Deeginny with the light brown hair…”

It is possible that my really complaints come from his readings of the Myth Adventures because the way he does it, emphasizes the inevitable flaws in the stories rather than covering them, which some readers seem capable of doing. Too bad, really.

So we have a better than average part of this long-running series (and if, sadly, any story had to be Bob Asprin’s last, this was not a bad one to go out on) but only a mediocre reading of it. Too bad… It deserves better.

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An Audio-Book Review: A Foray into the Not-So-Real Estate Business

Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold!

By Terry Brooks

Published by Books in Motion

Read by Cameron Beierle


The Book:

This is the first book in the Landover series. In it, successful lawyer Ben Holiday is having a mid-life crisis, compounded by the loss of his beloved wife and his legal practice just does not hold the attraction for him that it once did, so when he finds a strange advertisement offering to sell him a magical kingdom for a mere $1,000,000 he chomped at the bait with only a bare moment of hesitation. He also has to agree to stay in the kingdom for at least one full year or else forfeit everything he paid for it.

On his eventual arrival in this kingdom, called Landover, Ben finds out while the kingdom is technically as described, there are a lot of downsides that were never mentioned. The local barons refuse to recognized him as the king, the local peasants would like to have a king but do not really believe he can do anything for him. Other magical peoples are willing to accord him the title of king or “High Lord,” but he will need to prove himself before they give him anything beyond that courtesy and it turns out that he is going to have to fight an invincible demon before the crown is truly his. On top of all that, it turns out he is far from the first sucker to buy Landover. In fact, there have been dozens before him. No wonder none of the locals take him seriously. However, he is committed to staying and that means fighting a demon to the death.

I remember enjoying this story the first time I read it but I suspect my tastes have changed. The title of the story implies a humorous story and it is, in many ways a parody of the pseudo-medieval fantasy genre and that might be my problem with it. I personally grew tired of fantasies set in a medievalesque world shortly after I started writing my own stories. Or maybe I just had not read enough of this sort of story at the time I first encountered it. Needless to say I was a bit disappointed this time around.

Don’t get me wrong. On its own merits, it is an okay story, but now I see it as a hodgepodge of fantasy clichés. Now in a parody, that can be a very good starting point, but aside from few scenes tossed in as comic relief, it is not a funny story. Now it could have been a dramatic telling in spite of the humorous title, but it is light adventure which, once again, is not necessarily bad. I think what put me off was that it really was not funny enough to support all the fantasy clichés so in the end it is neither dramatic not humorous, but just a bland and, unfortunately, predictable mishmash. If you’ve read enough other books of the classic fantasy genre, then you know exactly what is going to happen. Predictability can work, but once again, there was not enough humor to pull it off.


Nice try, Mister Brooks. The story telling does expose your expertise, but this one just is not enough of one thing or another. If you are going to write comedy, then write comedy. If you want to be dramatic, write drama, but dramedy is best left on a Hollywood scrap pile.


The Audiobook:

For the most part Mister Beierle read the story well, but he really should have stopped every so often to look up words he was unfamiliar with because he frequently mispronounced some. The worst had to be the word, “Paladin.” The word is very important in this story and comes up frequently. Hint: it does NOT rhyme with “Aladdin.” That just ruined the entire reading.

He also tends to rely on “Funny voices,” but while some of those were annoying, he only used silly vocal renderings for non-human characters so it was not as annoying as it might have been, although there are a lot of non-humans in Landover. But that alone would not have ruined the reading… the mispronunciations were the spoilers for me.

So it’s a mediocre story that really could and should have been much better and while Cameron Beierle is obviously a talented vocal artist, he really fouled up on this one. If you are a big fan of Terry Brooks, you may well enjoy this story, but unless you can find a different recording, I’d recommend just reading it for yourself.

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An Audio-Book Review: Who, Did I say?

Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen

By Terrance Dicks

Published by BBC Worldwide Limited

Read by David Troughton


The Book:

This story involves the “Second Doctor” of the long-running Doctor Who series and the one played by Patrick Troughton… the one in the Quasi-Beatles/Quasi Moe Howard Haircut. I think for most of us, our favorite Doctor was the one who was being featured when we first became aware of the series. For a long time, my fave was the fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, but as I got to see other actors and their take on the character I came to appreciate each one for his own reasons. For example, I think my all-time favorite story line was “Inferno,” which featured the Jon Pertwee, “Third Doctor.”

I have also enjoyed most of the versions of the Doctor even if some of them left me cold at first. That was especially true of the Doctor as played by Christopher Eccleston and I nearly erased by VCR recording of the Doctor Who movie featuring the Either Doctor played by Paul McGann, but by the third Eccleston story and after hearing McGann reprise the role in the Big Finish audio plays, I came to enjoy them very much as well.

The Second Doctor must have been the toughest role to establish. Doctor Who is hardly the only series to recast a major character. It has become a too common occurrence sometimes called the “Darrin Effect,” after the oft referenced replacement of Dick York by Dick Sargent in the 1960’s series Bewitched. However, Doctor Who changes are not technically the Darrin Effect in which a major character is replace with little or no explanation (in the show… in real life Dick York had been suffering from an old back injury). Instead, the producers/writers of Doctor Who decided to completely change the character. So where the original Doctor (William Hartnell) was an elderly and irascible character, the second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) was somewhat younger, more active and very much a clownish figure at times. In retrospect the change was genius and easier for the audience to accept than merely bringing in another elderly actor made up to look like Hartnell. It put a life into the show that has kept it going (off and on) for over fifty years.

However, when Troughton stepped into the role, nothing like this had ever been done before. Happily, it was just the first of many regenerations, If you count all the various adaptations and renditions, counting both serious and parodies, the Doctor has been played by dozens of actors and actresses although in the TV series, so far there have only been thirteen Doctors (counting the unnumbered “War Doctor.” Still it was Patrick Troughton who changed the Doctor from a single character to a multiplicity of them,

This story is a novelization of one of the Second Doctor’s adventures with his companions, Jamie, a Jacobean-era Scot and Victoria, who came from the 19th Century (no, not that Victoria, although Her Majesty did appear in a later episode). In it, the Doctor arrives in Det-Sen Monastery in Tibet, expecting a warm welcome. However, the monks and lamas there are preparing to defend themselves against an attack by the legendary Yeti. Eventually the Doctor teams up with an intrepid English explorer named Travers to find the elusive abominable snowmen. The Yetis, however turn out to be the fierce and unstoppable servants of an alien intelligence. Yeah, yeah, typical Doctor Who.

The story really brought me back to the original Docotr Who series with its complex and convoluted plotlines and one thing led to another with at least one cliffhanger per half-hour episode. I don’t believe I ever saw this particular episode on TV, but I really enjoyed the story.


The Audiobook:

It is quite appropriate that this book is read by Patrick Troughton’s son, David. Not too surprisingly, he sounds just enough like his father that I occasionally forgot it was not being read by the man who actually played the Doctor, although David Troughton’s characterizations of Jamie, Victoria and the other characters were all very well done.

I did have a few unintentionally funny moments when the text repeatedly talked about the “Monks and lamas.” I am not sure if it was Troughton’s accent, but I could not help but think of Monty Python and I kept getting mental images of monkeys and llamas. My fault, that, not his.

So, all told, it’s an engagingly fun story and read in an equally engaging manner even if I did keep seeing crowds of South American animals running a monastery in Tibet…

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An Audio-Book Review: The Wages of Sin?

The Thing in the Attic

By James B. Blish

Two Editions Published by Librivox

Read by Phil Chenovert and Greg Margaritte


The Story:

Hell is for Heretics. In this case Hell is at ground level and all the people are living in the tree tops, or rather in a very large and towering canopy of tree tops. When someone is convicted of a serious crime, they are sentenced to Hell and given a lift down to the surface of their planet in a basket. Yep, they go to Hell in a hand-basket… sort of.

Sentences are not technically for life. In fact, none are permanent. However, no matter how short or long a sentence is, no one has ever returned from Hell. Ever. We learn all this as our central characters are being lowered gently to the surface of the planet for the grave heresy of disbelieving in the giants who supposedly created the world and the people on it. On reaching ground level the convicts are required to leave the basket and when the do the basket will be raised back up. The basket will not be lowered for them again until their sentence is up. Should any survive they’ll be welcome back. Cold comfort, indeed, considering their chances of survival.

That’s is when one of their number is so desperate he attempts to climb back up the rope above the basket as it is raised back into the canopy. He is killed for violating his sentence, or=f course, but he tries none the less. The rest of the party must find a way to survive and when some of them, by luck and ability do survive they learn the truth about their world, its history and its future.

For a short story, there is a fair amount of meat on this one and depending on how many similar stories you may have read, there might just be a few surprises. I know my first guess as to where it was going was completely wrong, but I did enjoy the ride.


The Audiobooks:

Sometimes it is fun to listen to different readings of the same story, but while their styles are completely different I enjoyed listening to both Phil Chenovert and Greg Margaritte as they read this story. Whether it was Mister Chenovert’s light, quasi-sarcastic style or Mister Margaritte’s syrupy basso, the story was an enjoyable experience for which one must give at least as much credit to the readers as the author.

In some ways this is a tale typical of its time. There were a lot of stories that explored similar themes, but this one holds up and remains interesting for both its content and entertainment value and both readers bring it to life.

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