An Audio-Book Review: The Problem with Time Travel…


Project Mastodon

By Clifford Simak

Published by LibriVox

Read by Phil Chenevert

The Story:

When I first came across this one I thought perhaps it was a different edition of Mastadonia which is also by Clifford Simak than I one I bought years ago through The Science Fiction Book Club. Well it does have a passing similarity with that book, but once you get past a solitary and elderly bull mastodon, the choice of southwestern Wisconsin and the theme of how people and governments might react to the possibility of time travel these are two entirely different stories.
First off Project Mastodon is a much shorter work of fiction. Masotodonia is a novel, a little thin, but still of novel length. This story… well I don’t have a word count, but I suspect it is either a short story or a novelette. The recording runs just over seventy-one minutes.
However, in spite of brevity, this is a classic example Simak’s science fiction. In it, three friends have managed to pool their strengths and finances, and invented a device that allows travel through time. Then they go back to the Sangamon Interglacial period and attempt to claim the entirety of North America as a sovereign nation called Mastodonia (something similar to this happens in the novel, but the people, reasons, means by which they travel through time and what they do with the technology, as well as public reaction to it is considerably different). Then one of them comes forward while the other two squat in a pre-human North America and tries to gain recognition for their proposed country. It doesn’t work and he is forced to go back. Meanwhile, he made the mistake of leaving some home movies they had made of animals (mostly mastodons and saber-tooth tigers) in the Sangamon in a bar before he returns to the past.
In the present the movies and found by a government clerk and they are eventually recognized as genuine, but in the past the time machine is broken during a battle between a mastodon and a tiger. How does it all resolve? Well, I suggest reading or listening to the story, but like most of Simak’s fiction, it is an interesting study of people and how they behave in unusual circumstances. He also covers several interesting and frequently overlooked mechanics of time travel. This may be a light story, but there are many thought provoking points to both enlighten and entertain.

The Audiobook:

I have said in the past that some of the LibriVox offerings are uneven. However, while, some of their readers are less than pleasing, most read passably fair and a few others read excellently. Phil Chenevert is definitely one of their best readers. He is also a major contributor to Librivox. I couldn’t find out if he is one of the organizers, but he has posted You Tube recordings on how to make Librivox recordings, so if he isn’t, then he is certainly one of the voices of Librivox.
He reads books with a liveliness that I find interesting. If the blurb I found is him, he also acts on the local stages of New Orleans, and his acting experience comes through in his reading.
I enjoyed Simak’s story very much and found Mister Chenevert’s reading greatly enhanced my enjoyment. I am always looking for more Simak stories to read (I know there are quite a few I’ve missed due to being out of print) and now I shall also be looking for readings by Phil Chenevert as well.

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