The Dueling Machine
By Ben Bova and Myron R. Lewis
Published by LibriVox
Read by Gregg Margarite
Sometime in the interstellar future disputes are settled by dueling. However, owing to the invention of the Dueling Machine, people can duel and not get killed. So it’s all well and good until someone figures out how to make the machine kill the loser for real.
This is not a bad story, but it does not sparkle either. Call it typical 1960’s science fiction. It has an interesting premise, but I did not feel it was developed well. In many ways this is also typical of Ben Bova in this period. He comes up with a really nifty idea but has trouble building a good story around it. I think this was written before he ascended to the editorship of “Analog SF” after which he admitted to having improve his own writing a lot.
The characters are flat and mostly uninteresting and even the clumsy Lieutenant Hector, who might have been an attempt at comic relief fails to brighten the story up. However, it is not entirely without merit and is probably a good read on a rainy afternoon. The digital text is available free from several outlets like The Gutenberg Project or for fairly cheap at sites like Amazon.com.
The most interesting concept Bova presents is Virtual Reality which, in a day before personal computers was fairly innovative and, frankly not entirely off from what modern electronic games are like, so the story might be worth reading for that alone.
Greg Margarite’s readings are sometimes an acquired taste. In this particular production he sounds like he does not believe what he is reading. He sounds snarky and sarcastic much of the time as though he was determined to demonstrate his disdain for the text. Or perhaps I am being too hard on him here.
Margarite has a style that makes him sound like he is leaning close to you as he speaks. The problem is, in this book it feels like we are touching noses as he reads and I wanted my personal space back. It took a long time to find a comfort zone as he read and by then the story was nearly over.
Then again, some listeners might enjoy his up-close and personal style.
So all told, we have an average story that is not being read at its best. On the plus side the whole recording only lasts a little more than two and a third hours so it is a good one to listen to on a short trip.