An Audio-Book Review: Beware of the Big Brains!

Wandl the Invader

By Ray Cummings

Published by Librivox

Read by Mark Nelson


The Book:

Sometimes I download an audiobook because the story is one I remember fondly from my youth. Sometimes it is because it’s one I have wanted to read and not had the time. Sometimes it is because it is an unknown work (to me) by a favorite author. This time I do not know why I downloaded it. Somehow it came up in a search through the Librivox site and I figured, “What the heck?”

I knew the name of Ray Cummings, but had never read anything by him that I could recall. Mister Cummings was one of the founders of modern science fiction and his works stand as a bridge between those of Verne and Wells and such authors as Heinlein and Asimov.

The story takes place at a time when mankind has established an interplanetary civilization along with the native Martians and Venusians. Then a new planet was discovered streaking in from interstellar space. It was one fifth the size of the Moon and then it changed course. The sighting of this strange new world was just the beginning of a war in which pitted the inhabitants of the Solar System with these invading strangers.

Wandl the Invader was first published in 1932 so it can be forgiven for its horrendous science (by today’s standards. For example, the people of Mars, Venus and Earth appear very similar (explained by the fact that they all grew up under the same sun – keep in mind that we did not know just how inhospitable the conditions on Mars and Venus were when he wrote this) but the Martians and taller and more powerful than the Earthlings and Venusians, no doubt living up to the fact they were born on the planet of the god of war.

However, if his science was somewhat lacking by today’s standards, Mister Cummings apparently knew people, so while many Solar citizens are resisting the invaders of Wandl, others are collaborating. This is not a subject most of us, I think, are comfortable with, but let’s face it, when conquest seems inevitable, some people will be tempted to join the winning side no matter who it is. So while this might seem like a simple story from the early days of modern SF, it does have depth and complexities that many modern writers miss even while writing more sophisticated tales.

I had a little trouble following who was who for a while, which is probably a combination of the SF-style names a reader (well, me in any case) does not normally try to pronounce, just sort of let’s one’s eyes slide over the pattern of letters and the fact that I had never read the story before and was trying to take it in while driving. Then again I do not normally have trouble following the plot of a story I listen to, so…

I think this is a good and solid example of a science fiction story that represents the period in which such stories transitioned from those of H. G. Wells and, earlier, Jules Verne, to the sorts of styles we became used to reading in the Post-World War II era. As I said the science is horrendous, but I doubt many readers who were not quantum physicists or biologists would have had much trouble with it at the time it was first published. So much has changed in the last eighty-something years and stuff that is now popular knowledge was unknown back then. So, go ahead and check this one out, it’s much better than most H.G. Wells stories I’ve read.


The Audiobook:

Mark Nelson is one of my favorite Librivox readers, but I don’t think this reading was one of his best. It’s a passable job, but he did not sound like he was having fun with it. Well even the best readers can’t turn in award-winning performances every time.

As I said, it was a passable, no-nonsense reading. I have no real complaints with the way he did it, it just did not have the usual sparkle, the enthusiasm of most audiobooks I have heard read by Mister Nelson.

So we have an interesting story, at least from the standpoint of an historian of science fiction and a solid reading than neither added nor took away anything from the narrative.

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