An Audiobook Review: Fear and Loathing in the Horsehead Nebula


 

The Stars Like Dust

By Isaac Asimov

Published by National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, The Library of Congress in arrangement with Doubleday Books

Read by Hal Tenny

 

The Book:

With this review I have now been writing these things once a week for a year. I admit I was not sure I would keep it up this long, but I am still enjoying it so I shall keep writing these as long as I do. That has probably nothing to do with the content of this week’s review, however.

I am a big fan of Isaac Asimov. As I think I said in the past, it was his SF detective novel, The Caves of Steel, that got me reading Science Fiction in the first place. This book, written two or three years earlier, however, was not one of his best. It is not entirely horrible, but while Dr. Asimov had been publishing his stories for well over a decade, his mature style of writing was still developing. Well, why not? Any good writer should continue to improve as he or she goes along. If you do not, the writing gets stale. So I think it is fair to say that Dr. Asimov was a well-established author at the time he wrote this book, but his story-telling ability was not yet at his best.

The Stars Like Dust is supposed to be one of the Galactic Empire novels, although the Trantorian Empire that usually refers to is never mentioned throughout the story and probably has not yet been founded. The only connection to his usual future history is that Earth is a radio-active world, thought to be due to atomic wars. It should be noted that much later it was revealed that the radio-activity of Earth was deliberately caused by… oh never mind… that would be a horrible spoiler for those who have not yet read that story and if you have read it, you do not need to hear it from me.

The Book tells the story of Biron Farrill, the son of a noble with the interesting title, Rancher of Widemos. He is a student on Earth, and has been given a task by his father of finding an unknown but very important document that is supposedly the most important document ever and that it will bring freedom to all the galaxy. Biron leaves Earth on learning that his father has been arrested and killed the Tyranni, a small empire of 50 worlds (is that small?) whose home planet is called Tyrann. On arriving on the planet Rhodia, he hears a rumor of a  world on which rebellion against the Tyranni is being plotted and together with the Director of Rhodia’s daughter and cousin, he steals the local Tyrrani governor’s spaceship and zips off to find the rebellion world.

The first world they go to is Ligane, where it turns out the local ruler, the Autarch, is the same guy who originally advised Biron to go to Rhodia, but in spite of monumental distrust, they decide to travel with the Autarch, who says he knows where that world must be.

If I go on much longer I might give the whole story away, but rest assured that who is in charge switches back and forth from one character to another, and eventually they do find that document, that will free the people of the galaxy and be the greatest weapon against the Tyranni that turns out to be the United States Constitution.

Oh man, where do I start? It really is just too easy, isn’t it?  One can only wonder just how this far future’s people would deal with the 18th and 21st Amendments… Actually, I think I shall desist from most of the jokes that come to mind. I actually admire the US Constitution, it is just some of the things our politicians have done with it that I take issue with. I think that when taken in the context of 1951 when Stars Like Dust was written, thinking of the Constitution in those terms made more sense that it does today and when I first read the story back in the late 60’s or early 70’s I did not question whether merely  spreading copies of the Constitution around would destroy the Tyranni Empire or whether every world in the galaxy would instantly accept it as their new laws.

Now, I see all sorts of problems with such a scenario. The US Constitution more or less works in the US, and if the politicians would keep their grubby paws off it, it might even work better… uh… this is not a political blog, so sorry about that. In any case I do not think it would work as well in, say, Canada or France, or, well anywhere else. It is not that I think there is anything in the US Constitution that is contrary to how things are done in any other democratic republic, although  I am sure there may be details that are, but part of the point of the US government is that it is supposed to be of, by and for the people. The first two of those are key to this; each nation’s people, if they are going to follow a democratic republican model must draft their own constitution and laws. There will be differences – get any two politicians together and you will have three different opinions – but even if after a full-fledged constitutional convention the constitution is the same word for word, that is only because the representatives of the people of that nation made it so. But they have to do it for themselves, otherwise it could never work. Of… By… and For.

One other note: the Tyranni… With a name like that, no wonder no one wanted to be a member of that empire. Seriously, would you want your rulers to be Tyranni? This is the power of advertising at work. Any marketer can tell you they should have named their world Benevola, then they would have been the Benevolant Empire and worlds all over the galaxy would have been lining up to join.

The story is less than satisfactory and even Asimov himself described it as his “least favorite novel.” If you are an Asimov fan and have not read this one, well, completing the collection does have some merit, but if you have already read it, I do not think it bears rereading.

 

The Audiobook:

 

Hal Tenny does a passable job reading this book. My copy had a lot of reverb in so it sounded like  he was by himself in a large room with no sound dampeners on the walls. It was strange to listen to an entire book with such strong reverb. Mister Tenny also has a deep, somewhat booming voice and he reads very dramatically. It kind of sounded like a professional voice-over artist announcing the prizes in a game show and it did not quite work. I do not know if this is the same Hal Tenny who has written several SF adventure stories of his own.

Like I said, the job was passable. After a while you stop hearing the reverb and grow used to the overly dramatic reading and take it as it is. In fact, it might be worth listening to one, just because. Keep in mind this is a recording done for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and it is not as slickly produced as those done by commercial publishers, but it is not bad for all that. It could be better of course, but it could be much much worse!

In conclusion: The book is mediocre but worth reading once. Mister Tenny’s reading has a few rough edges but it might just be that his voice, which sounds professional enough, was just not a good match for the content.

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