The Knights of Arthur
By Frederik Pohl
Published by LibriVox
Two Editions read by Gregg Maragrite and Phil Chenevert
Two weeks ago, I reviewed Ayn Rand’s post-apocalyptic dystopia, Anthem. This is another post-apocalyptic story, although one of an entirely different nature. In this case “Clean bombs” have killed off all but about ten thousand people in all of the United States (not sure what happened elsewhere, but we get the impression the same thing) , but pretty much left all the buildings intact, much like Neutron Bombs we heard about in the 1980’s (although they existed a decade and a half earlier). Actually the first such was hypothesized in 1958 the same year this story was published, so that may be where Pohl got the idea.
The story is a quirky bit of fiction about three submariners (one of whom is just a brain in a can (sort of. In the story he is called a “Prosthetic” and most whole-body humans think of Prosthetics as non-feeling things and property) who survived the end of the world. Anyway the Prosthetic is named Arthur, hence the name, and the other two were his shipmates. They survived when the clean bombs struck because they were submerged.
For reasons never specified they have been in Philadelphia but are now arriving in New York, looking for something that is revealed later. Hint: I really think they should have tried Newport News instead. On arriving in New York with Arthur, the main character, Sam, discovers the town is being despotically run by an Army Major who decided to take over in the aftermath and that his partner has already sold out to the Major, but it turns out both are on a mission for Arthur and in order to accomplish it, they first must agree to work with the Major…
It is not a great story, but it is diverting enough and an excellent literary palate cleanser if you have been reading too many dark and dismal pieces lately. My main complaints are that I thought the Major’s decision to join the trio at the end of the story to be totally unbelievable and (this might relate) the whole story reads like Chapters One and Two of a much longer work. Certainly it ends rather abruptly and without a lot of resolution save on a single point. Now one might point out that is the essence of a short story… and I agree… but this is one of those stories that really should have continued on. There are just too many problems you can see ahead even if the characters do not.
I am not sure why LibriVox chose to record this one twice, but since the story only lasts a bit over an hour and a half, it is another good one for a short trip.
Gregg Margarite and Phil Cenovert has different styles of reading so, given the shortness of the story you may also find it worthwhile to listen to both editions. Gregg Margarite tells the story in deeper tones than Phil Cenovert so if you like deeper voices his may be the one to listen to. Phil Cenovert seemed to try a bit too hard to pick up the cynical tones of nearly all the characters which I found tiresome after a while, but neither reader showed a full range of emotion. Chenovert was a paragon of cynicism throughout most of the reading, while Margarite sounded bored most of the time.
In all, I thought Phil Chenovert captured the mood of the piece better, but I preferred listening to Gregg Margarite. Perhaps LibriVox needs a reading by Mark Nelson too and then they will have their main triad of SF readers all doing the same story.
In summary, it’s a short and quirky story, but not great literature with passable, but not excellent readings.