The World that Couldn’t Be
By Clifford Simak
Published by Librivox
Two Versions: read by Phil Chenevert and by Gregg Margarite
I found this an interesting story. It’s not one of Simaks’s best, but as a fan of his work, this was one I had not yet encountered. If you have not read anything by this grandmaster of science fiction, The World that Couldn’t Be is not the best place to start. I might Recommend, City, Way Station, Project Pope or even Mastodonia instead for a first look, but if you’ve read all the commonly available stories he wrote, then this can be a nice experience.
The World that Couldn’t Be tells the story of a human plantation owner on distant planet, that has its own indigenous sapient population. Life on this world, Layard, is mono-sexual – neither male nor female and for one reason or another, no one knows where little natives come from and, apparently, no one has gotten a straight answer from one of the natives?
One day one of the local animals, a Cytha, ate through ten rows of his crops in a single night. Well no farmer is likely to put up with that, so Gavin Duncan picked up his gun, hired a native tracker and off they went. It’s a long, but interesting chase with a twist at the end and in typical Simak fashion, it ends in a satisfying manner. Definitely worth the time it would take to read.
For reasons I do not know, Librivox has published this story by two different readers. I listened to the one by Phil Chenovert first and enjoyed it thouroughly. His vocal characterizations, play with the border between dramatic reading and “using funny voices,” but in this story at least the funny voices he chooses for the natives of Layard work quite well. It was a lot of fun to listen to his pleasant tenor throughout the approximately two hours of the recording.
Gregg Margarite, in comparison, reads in a gravelly basso that sometimes sounds like someone was using a Text-to-voice synthesizer, although no such device I have heard could put the emotion into the reading, Mister Margarite did, but his reading is carefully paced and almost mechanical at times. On the other hand his blog introduction starts out “Persons finding themselves in this place are assumed to be off course, or regrettably distracted by a series of frivolous LibriVox audio-book recordings attributed to one, Gregg Margarite. Proof of this person’s actual existence should be greeted with skepticism. It is likely that Gregg Margarite is an existential, post-modern, propaganda construct created by the Military Industrial Complex in partnership with Madison Avenue. As such any identity you would like to impose is acceptable.” So I think it is safe to say, there was a good sense of humor embodied behind that deep voice. I put that in the past tense, by the way because, according to his listing in Librivox, Mister Margarite died in 2012. The good news is that he left behind a large legacy of audiobooks for us to enjoy.
So… The story is an interesting take on the speculation about one form alien life might take combined with an excellent character sketch of Gavin Duncan, the only main human character in the story. As for which audio book to listen to? Well, I recommend both. The total running time of each is less than two hours and listening to both gives you time to examine the story a second time, knowing what surprises are ahead of Duncan.