By Frederik Pohl and Lester Del Rey (writing as Edson McCann)
Published by Librivox.org
Read by Nick Bulka
Here’s another piece of classic 1950’s science fiction and written by a classic pair of science fiction writers. Preferred Risk tells the tale of a claims adjuster for The Company that insures everyone on Earth against everything, thereby effectively owning the world.
Well, almost everyone: accused criminals have their policies cancelled and the poor cannot afford to buy insurance. Also, against almost everything; The company does not insure against warfare, but it claims to have put an end to war… supposedly. The Company claims to be the ultimate beneficent organization and yet there is an organized resistance movement doing what it can to bring The Company down.
Claims Adjuster Wills is a loyal Company man who knows in his heart that the Company only serves to maintain the happiness and security of all Mankind. However, when he meets a man who has collected on having suffered severed limbs multiple times (they grow back) and a beautiful but mysterious woman (of course) he learns that there is something very wrong at the very top levels of The Company and it is up to him to find a way to save the world, not only from the Company, but from the rebels who fight to bring the Company down by destroying all life on Earth.
I’m not sure how much of the science holds up some sixty-two years later, but while the story starts out a bit slowly it develops well and got better and better as the story progressed. The authors certainly knew their business and understood they had to take the time to set up their future world well before the real action began because once it started rolling, there really was no time to go back and explain. It was not a fun story as there was little humor, which would have been inappropriate in such a stark world, but it was a good story about real-seeming people in situations that, given the set-up, were quite believable.
Definitely this is a good example of mid-1950’s SF that while, perhaps a little dated, is not so out-of-date as it might be. It might not be for more modern tastes, especially for those readers looking for deeply moralistic stories set in dark and dingy worlds (side comment: have you noticed how many fantasy and science fiction movies are poorly lit lately? Sure, the story might be dark, and if you are in a cave, I don’t expect sunlight, but when alone on a space ship, why not turn on the lights? Oh, never mind, maybe I’ll cover that in a different post). Anyway, this is a story that involves hope throughout even at the worst of times and I’ll admit I prefer that to watching the protagonist being ground into dust.
I don’t think I have listened to a story read by Nick Bulka before, but I certainly will not shy away from recordings by him in the future. In fact I have already downloaded two more Librivox projects to which he contributed.
Nick Bulka reads the story well with just enough vocal differentiation to delineate the characters and while he does sometimes resort to accents (one character calls Wills something that sounds like “Wheels” but then, the authors wrote that into the story – as “Weels” – so he was only reading what was there. I would have done the same) none of those accents are over-the-top or difficult to listen too.
So we have a classic SF story, one of those hidden gems you hear of from time to time and it is read masterfully by Nick Bulka.