An Audio-Book Review: A Possible Glimpse of the Future

Anchorite

By Randall Garrett

Published by Librivox.org

Read by Phil Chenovert

 

The Book:

According to my on-line dictionary, an “Anchorite” is a religious hermit, one who has retired from the world. I tried to see if that applied here and came close, but in this story an anchorite is someone who sets anchors in asteroids (so a ship, or a miner, will not simply go floating away from it.) Setting anchors is a dangerous job and one that can easily get a fool killed if he fails in any number of ways. A number of fools have been getting killed that way and Earth’s authoritarian government wants to know why, not because of the loss of life, but because it is costing them in insurance claims.

Back on Earth all people are equal, not only under the law, but in all things. That sounds good on the surface, but it ignores the fact that some people are better at some activities than others. Earth’s system is a welfare state that coddles the fools and the lazy (and the stupid). IN the Asteroid Belt, there may be room for the fools, the lazy (and the stupid), but only because they don’t last there for long. The biggest problem is that some fools are better at being fools than others and might kill their companions as well.

The story is good hard science fiction with good physics explained well with the characters explaining how mass, momentum and the law of motion work in zero, or rather, microgravity. And the nice thing is that not only do they explain it well, but do so in an entertaining manner, although I did find some of the vocal mannerisms of the eccentric pilot, Jules Christian to be rather annoying (more of that below).

It’s a fairly short story; technically a short novel, but just barely and spends much of its time in training an Earthman to be an anchorite. In the end the man goes back to Earth, but admits that the basic difference in life in the systems was that on Earth you were constantly watching your own back against supposed team-mates, but here in the Belt you could rely on your team because here, each person could be counted on to do their job and work together. The men of the Belt, on the other hand realize that the Earthman still does not get it. It is not about teams. If you have a good team it is only a consequence, to them, of starting with good individuals. They don’t think in terms of teams, since each belter has to be self-sufficient.

Come to think about it, the anchorites, in this story, while not actually religious hermits have chosen to live outside this world.

In all, the story is a sharp commentary on authoritarian society, whether paternalistic or maternalistic and a prediction as to where we might all be headed.

 

The Audiobook:

Normally, I like Phil Chenovert’s reading style in Garrett’s stories, but this time I thought it was a bit of too much. He has a sarcastic tone that usually matches Garrett’s style well, but this time it felt more than a little out of place in a story where the characters seemed to be a bit more serious than in many of Garrett’s pieces at the time he wrote this so the sarcastic tones seemed out of place.

Even more annoying were the outrageous accents of Captain St. Simon’s pilot. I think Garrett meant them to be outrageous and Mister Chenovert probably read them exactly as the author intended, but sometimes such mannerisms read better than they sound and it might have been a better idea to tone them down a little in the actual reading.

Can I truly fault the reader for doing as the author intended? Well, I think I just did. The accents jarred on the ears, though they must have been fun for Phil Chenovert to read.

So we have an interesting and insightful story on societal trends and with some predictions that might be all too accurate combined with good hard science in a mix that worked well, and while I might have preferred a little less schmaltz on the part of the reader, I might be too hard on him. Why not listen to this one and decide for yourself?

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An Audio-Book Review: In the Deep Soul-Sucking Darkness of Space…

The Aliens

By Murry Leinster

Published by Librivox.org

Read by tabbithat

 

The Book:

Here is an interesting story, although the plot itself is fairly humdrum. The Aliens is a fairly standard “First Contact” story of the late 1950’s. It was a time long past the “Aliens are automatically hostile conquerors” ala Well’s War of the Worlds. And by then the old trope of the alie3ns turn out to be here from an advanced civilization here to invite us to join the “Grand Galactic Union,” or some such.

This is a trope that was fairly new for the time; aliens are just people too. I’m not sure how well a younger reader right now will fathom some of the concepts in the story. No, I do not think this was written over anyone’s head. It is just that the ethics of war in this story harken back to a day before terrorism was a tool of warfare.

In this story, a human ship encounters one of known hostile aliens. Neither species has ever actually met the other face-to-face, nor have they communicated, merely fought one another, competing for territory. Naturally both ships turn to fight, but something goes wrong and they collide and in the collision their hulls are welded to one another. For reasons explained in the story neither ship has motive power, but together they are now drifting directly toward the local star. Neither crew can destroy the enemy ship without destroying themselves and the crews of both species need the other to get themselves out of this predicament.

Where the age of this piece comes out is in how the people react once in the situation. In many ways, they are like the gentlemen warriors of the past. During a time of truce, selected personnel visit each other’s ships and communicate as best they can in an attempt to work out their mutual problem. In many ways, it reminded me of that Christmas truce of World War I in 1914 during which the soldiers of both sides crossed trenches to exchange holiday greetings, talk and exchange food and souvenirs and even played football in No Man’s Land. Yes, they understood that after the truce they would go back to trying to kill each other, but for that moment they could fraternize when the war was not happening.

The humans and aliens in this story, for the most part, behave in a similarly cordial manner, although they cannot exchange food, or even breathe each other’s air. The story, however, was also written in a time when xenophobia was recognized as well and one of the human crew was xenophobic and that was one of the few points of conflict and dramatic tension.

The story really is too short, and should have been longer to develop the characters more and to further explain why a xenophobe was considered a good shipmate on a warship. Getting to know the aliens better might have been interesting as well, but as short as it is, this story represents a transition from science fiction of the 1940’s and 50’s to how similar issues were discussed in the 1960’s and 70’s. There is a bit of both there and that’s what made it interesting for me.

I won’t give away the end, but it too is typical of the time, but in this case I think it’s a good thing. I liked the ending and would like to think that a similar situation in reality would be resolved in the same manner.

 

The Audiobook:

This is the second time I have listed to a book read by tabithat. The first time was in her reading of H. Beam Piper’s classic Little Fuzzy. At the time, I thought she had started out a bit stiffly but that she warmed up as she went along. This time I enjoyed her reading throughout. Like many Librivox readers she does not attempt to delineate different characters with strong accents or funny voices. She does give a good strong and coherent reading.

So the story is an interesting piece of its period, neither ahead nor behind its time, but tabithat reads it well. This one is definitely worth listening to both for the story and the reader.

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An Audio-Book Review: And Meow for a Story

Tailchaser’s Song

By Tad Williams

Published by Uncertain

Read by: Uncredited

 

The Story:

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” Terry Pratchett

It is a common and time-tested trope. Take a bunch of animals and tell a story about them as though they were sapient creatures. Sometimes they are pets who pretend to be dumb animals around humans. Sometimes they are openly sapient and somewhere in between. Then we have animals that have their cultures either independent of humans or else there are no humans. How long has this been going on?

In the last one hundred years or so, it has become very common, so let’s leave aside the obvious examples of video games and comics, both web and print. Let’s also just admit that it is hard to avoid sapient animals in anime and Disney movies/cartoons. Let’s ignore Yogi Bear, Underdog and their cousins, not to mention their live action counterparts, we still have Mister Ed, My Little Pony, Gromit, the cast of Flushed Away, the animals of Animal Farm, Sgt. Snorkel’s dog, Otto, Dogbert, Snoopy, Shawn the Sheep, Flint Lockhart’s monkey, Steve, Clifford Simak’s future dogs of City, and just about every animal in Oz, including Toto who at one time admits he does not talk to Dorothy for fear she would stop treating him as a pet.

Yeah. Okay, I said to ignore some of those, but what the heck. There is even the horse of Cohen the Barbarian (Prachett’s Discworld series) who talks, but had Cohen known that all he would do was complain he would have gotten rid of him far sooner.

The point is, the world is so full of stories that rely on that trope it is hard to believe some times that there is room on the bookshelves for other types of stories. So then we have the story type in which the animals have a culture (maybe a civilization of their own. Watership Down, for example, is filled with sapient rabbits that would give Monte Python’s Rabbit of Caerbannog a run for its fluffy-tailed money. Actually, is the Rabbit of Caerbannog sapient? Maybe it just has a sweet tooth for living meat. Oh, hey! How about Bunnicula and his fellow pets?

The most recent example I have noticed is a commercial for Johnsonville sausages where a burly gentleman is chatting with the local wildlife while eating breakfast. I am leaving out a lot of examples here, sorry if I have skipped your favorite, feel free to mention it in the comments section.

So how long has this been going on? Many of our classic fairy tales feature sapient animals – “What big eyes you have Grandma!” Japanese lore has many such too, such of the Kitsune(foxes) and the Tanuki (Racoon dogs) both of which had counterparts on the mainland and which had entirely different reputations; never confuse a Kitsune with a Huli Jing!

Going back even further we have Aesop’s Fables and before that we might be able to include Hanuman, the Monkey King who eventually found enlightenment along the long path, and don’t forget Garuda! So, let’s just assume there have been such stories about animals as far back as we have records.

Cats fill a very special niche of such stories. A good example might be the Jellicle cats of T.S. Eliot or those of the Feline Wizards series of Diane Duane, and Tad Williams’ Tailchaser’s Song is another, any of which might have inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber to compose “Memories.” Now with a bunch of talking animals, including a talking frog, this might have turned out to be another Wind in the Willows but the story is a more serious piece, closer to a feline version of The Lord of the Rings although with a much smaller fellowship and one in which only Tailchaser, himself, is featured throughout.

In any case, while I was prepared to be disappointed, but actually this was a very good story and I’m glad I took the time. It has the earmarks of an author’s early work, might be a bit rough in places and the end seemed too abrupt – ad though the author thought, “Well, I covered the story, why bother writing a few more paragraphs to close it neatly?), but in all this was a very enjoyable story and an excellent piece of serious fantasy. And, apparently there is an animated version of the story being produced as I write this, so read it before Hollywood gets its paws on the story!

 

The Audiobook:

I really wish I knew who was reading this and who published it, but try though I did, I could not find any mention of an audio-edition of this book in which the publisher and reader were credited. So either it’s so long out of the print that even the Internet has forgotten (and I thought the Internet never forgot…). This one of those copies of audiobooks I have received from friends so I do not know where it came from. I did find mention of a torrent download of an audio recording although it was not credited and I do not download books illegally. It is not fair to the authors. I don’t mind borrowing a copy – it’s like borrowing a regular book, but I do not steal books! However, I did listen to this one and would like to give credit where due.

I suspect this might have been an offering from the National Library Service along with all their other audiobooks for the blind and physically handicapped, but I just do not know. All the usual introductory stuff was missing as was the glossary at the end of the book.

The reader was fairly good, however and obviously read the author’s note about pronunciation before recording the story. I did not think he was outstanding, but his reading had none of the annoying over-the-top features some actors put into their readings, especially when talking animals are involved. Instead this reader gave the character the same respect that any serious literary characters ought to have and produced an overall good reading.

So, I might not be able to point you to this audiobook, but I do recommend going out and buying a copy of the story in paper or e-book format. With a movie coming out there ought to be plenty to be found.

Posted in Adventure, Audio Books, Books, Fantasy, Tas Williams | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

An Audio-Book Review: Hey You Kids! Get Off of My Lawn!

Sonnet 073

By William Shakespeare

Published by Librivox

Read by Alys AtteWater, Annie Coleman Rothenberg, Brett Shand, Graham William, Hugh McGuire, Justine Young, Fox in the Stars. Martin Clifton, Mark F. Smith and Stefan Schmelz

 

The Poem:

Well, it finally happened. I have endeavored to write a review of an audiobook, dramatic reading or radio play once a week. It is a sort of experiment to see how long I could do it without skipping a week. I still will not have skipped a week, but the latest audiobook I am listening to in my car is not yet finished and I will not review without listening to a recording all the way through. Fortunately, Librivox.org has come to my rescue with a recording of Shakespeare’s Sonnet #73 so my streak continues for now…

Q1 That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
Q2 In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
Q3 In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
C   This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Now if anyone expects me to trash even the least of Shakespeare’s scribblings, forget it. I started writing novels about twenty-eight years ago because I read a published story that was so bad, I was certain I could do better. Yes, I know how trite that sounds and I don’t even remember who wrote that particular waste of paper and ink. I suppose I should recall the full details of my original inspiration, but I think my mind is protecting me from the horrendous trauma recall might bring. Or else it really was that forgettable.

Sonnet 73 is about old age or perhaps about the loss of youth. The experts do not entirely agree. Some even criticize Shakespeare’s metaphors and if you want a learned discussion of this relatively short poem, I recommend starting with the entry on Wikipedia and then start looking up the sources cited in the footnotes. There are men and women who have spent their lives examining Shakespeare’s sonnets, but I am not one of them. However this is one of the more oft-quoted sonnets, especially the line, “….where late the sweet birds sang.”

The true worth of a poem is whether or not it is appreciated by the listener and I think this one is definitely worth listening to,

 

The Audiobook:

This collection of ten recordings was done to celebrate the Bard’s birthday back in 2006. Like most Librivox offerings in which multiple readers are used, this one is a mixed bag although none of the readers are horrible and some are quite enjoyable, indeed.

I was somewhat surprised that a friend of mine, Alys AtteWater, was not only one of the readers, but the lead-off reader of the project. I was a bit worried to see her name because I would truly hate to give a friend a bad reviewed, but I need not have feared at all. Alys’ reading was a perfect lead-in to the others and definitely one of the best of the ten.

One of the interesting things about listening to multiple readers of the same poem is the chance to get multiple perspectives and interpretations of the work. Because this collection was so short, I listened through it three times and I think I enjoyed it a little more each time.

 

 

 

 

 

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An Audio-Book Review: Feminine Mystique?

Oops! I got distracted and forgot to post this one on time. Sorry about that!

To Sail Beyond the Sunset:

The Life and Loves of Maureen Johnson (Being the Memoirs of a Somewhat Irregular Lady)

By Robert A. Heinlein

Published by National Library Service

Read by Carol McCartney

 

The Book:

I am a fan of Robert Heinlein most of the time. My own writing has some heavy influence from his, although I may be the only one who sees it. When political discussion come up I frequently describe myself as a Heinleinian anarchist (similar to Professor La Paz in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress who calls himself a “Rational Anarchist.”) However, this story left me unsatisfied.

Part of the problem might be that unlike most Heinlein fans I find the character of Lazarus Long a crashing bore. He always seems to know everything and is always right even when he isn’t. All-knowing characters who insist on demonstrating they know it all are not interesting to me. They just destroy any form of literary tension. Now I’ll admit I have not read all the Lazarus Long stories, so maybe I just read the wrong ones and am being unfair, however I so dislike him as a character I am not likely to bother so I will endeavor to take this book on its own merits.

Maureen Johnson Smith Long is Lazarus Long’s mother and husband and probably his daughter too for all I know. There’s a lot of incest in this book and is a bit more upfront than it is in some of the earlier stories. I suppose the message is that sex is for mutual enjoyment and is an expression of love. Certainly, the Long family seems to be more concerned with keeping in-breeding to a minimum than worrying about who is in bed with whom. Well, I already knew that about this crew, so there were no surprises there although Maureen seems at times to be in heat while her cats are models of propriety… Go figure.

I am uncertain just how much new story there is in this book. Maureen in is prison, dictating her memoires, most of which seem rather familiar to me. At least there was nothing I had note either read or inferred about the Howard Families or the history of her time line – the one in which the preacher, Nehemiah Scudder was elected President of the USA in 2012 (Story in If This Goes On,,, and others) although she was rescued from death by truck in 1982.

For the most part, I was not really engaged by her life story. I thought was well-written but, as I said, it seemed too familiar, but I don’t recall reading it before. Maybe it was just too obvious where the story was headed. I was somewhat more interested in what she was doing in the prison and how she would get out, although even then there was not a lot of tension since anyone who has read enough of Heinlein’s stories to know of the Time Corps would realize they would eventually find her no matter how long it took for them, since they could always pop back and get her at the right time.

There was a slight (and I do mean slight) twist when Maureen is rescued by a group of terminally ill people calling themselves the Committee for Aesthetic Deletions and using such secret names as “Dr. Frankenstein, Lizzie Borden etc.) instead of by the Time Corps directly. But eventually Maureen is rescued as I knew she would be. After all Pixel, the cat who walks through walls, was there to sort of lead them to her… in a feline sort of way, I guess.

Anyway, they finally do get her back to safety, heal her up, because it seems that most later Heinlein characters get wounded in the exciting scenes, and at that point the story should have been over, but maybe it was not long enough yet to suit the publisher or else Mister Heinlein felt Maureen deserved to realize her lifelong dream of being married to her father, so once again they planned a Time Corps mission to go back and rescue him from death in World War II. Once more everyone is several wounded, but futuristic medicine saves them and they all live together happily ever after. That final section, however felt like an appendix or the start of another story (one that was never written so far as I know)

The whole thing left me wondering why was this story even written and the best I can come up with was to resolve a few problems that came up due to the very end of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (if you did not catch them, I won’t ruin it for you.) I just cannot help but think there were more exciting stories that did not get told so that this one could be.

Maybe I am wrong about that. Looking around, I see a lot of Heinlein fans loved this book and , yes it did have its moments, so if you have not yet read this and you did like the Lazarus Long Stories, this is probably for you!

 

The Audiobook:

 

I have listened to part of the Audible edition of this book, read by Bernadette Dunne and she does a pretty good job of it, but I think I prefer Carol McCartney’s reading. Ms. McCartney. Her high, clear voice seems to capture Maureen’s personality (as I envision her) perfectly. Her skepticism mixed with wonder, joy and irreverence for societal norms comes out perfectly as Ms. McCartney reads. I am not sure I could, or would have read through the book from cover-=to-cover, but I was able to listen and that says a lot.

So, this is a story that is probably best aimed at long-time Heinlein fans who enjoy Lazarus Long as a character, but whether you are one of them, I do recommend Carol McCartney as the reader of this tale.

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An Audio-Book Review: The Cat in the Hat and This and That

The Cat in the Hat and other Dr. Seuss Favorites

By Dr. Seuss

Published by Listening Library

Read by Kelsey Grammer, John Cleese, John Lithgow, Billy Crystal, Dustin Hoffman, Ted Danson, Walter Matthau and Mercedes McCambridge

 

The Books:

I grew up with the books of Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) and continue to have a fondness for them. I always look forward to the movie adaptations of them, although I will admit to having been disappointed by a few. Most of his books are slim and meant for young children who delight in the drawings as much as they do in his poetic story telling. The books are great to read to and with kids and I recommend them highly.

The movies, well with such slim books, the writers of the screen adaptations need to fill to get even ninety minutes out of them, but they are best adapted when the writers (and certain actors) do their best to stay true to the nature of Geisel’s stories and resist the urge to put in touches of their own.

This collection includes; The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, The Lorax, Yertle the Turtle, Gertrude Mc Fuzz, The Big brag, Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose, Horton Hatches the Egg and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. Quite the assortment!

I have to admit I had forgotten Thidwick although it came back to me as I listened, and two the titles were published long after I was too old to read these stories. I only knew of The Lorax because of the movie adaptation and Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? was entirely new to me. However, Dr. Seuss’ work remains a delight and ageless as I recall.

 

The Audiobook:

I have to say that listening to this was great fun!

Normally when I come across a compilation of readings by various vocal talents, some always seem to fall flat, but this time it was delightful fun from start to finish. Each reader had his or her own style but all fit the nature of Dr. Seuss perfectly even when they employed over-the-top voices. It just worked.

Dr. Seuss’ books are classics of children’s stories and I think you’ll find this audio collection an excellent choice to play while driving with your children… or just listening for yourself and getting into the nostalgia of it.

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An Audio-Book Review: Stoke Me a Clipper, I’ll be Back for Christmas!

Backwards

By Rob Grant

Published by Ulverscroft

Read by Rob Grant

 

The Book:

Some sites tell me this is the fourth “Red Dwarf” adventure and others inform me it is the third, Yet another site says it is the “alternative third adventure” whatever that means. All I know for certain is that I have not been listening to them in chronological order, if there is a chronological order. Apparently the last one I listened to is listed on one site as #3.5 and also follows the action that takes place in the second… So, okay, maybe the two authors disagreed on how the written version of the story should proceed or maybe they just both felt like going solo. According to Wikipedia “creative differences” were cited as a reason for Grant leaving the show, although Grant himself said “that he ‘wished to have more on his ‘tombstone’ than Red Dwarf.’”  Frankly, I wish my own writing was as commercially successful. Would I want to be remembered for more than one series, sure, but first let me make a living at my writing! Oh, never mind, I always say things like that when a writer is not content to actually make a living doing what he or she loves.

I will admit to never having been perfectly happy with any of the Red Dwarf books, although I enjoyed most of the television series they were based on. I don’t really mind that the stories in the books do not exactly follow the way they went on TV. That would have been boring and I had no trouble with the fact that Douglass Adams’ Hitchhikers’’ Guide series stories were each quite different from the radio series, from the TV show and from the posthumous movie. That was part of what I liked about it. I might have known the jokes when they hit me, but I never knew exactly how the story was going to turn out.

Something is always missing from the Red Dwarf books and I am not really sure what it is. Maybe it’s because the writers have tried to stretch two or three half hour episodes into a single book or maybe as novels the stories are just too verbose. In any case I found the jokes less funny because so much of Red Dwarf was physical humor and that just does not translate to words, but also I kept getting the feeling that the writer(s) were trying to explain the punchlines when the punchlines should have been self-evident.

This time, Rob Grant attempted to weave several episodes into a single story which in turn, was apparently an alternative reality from the main series. This comes off one of the earlier books I which Dave Lister (the all-time best slacker/slob in the universe) has died and been buried on a planet Earth in a universe in which time ran backwards. That was done so that through the passage of time he would come back to life and gradually get younger. The crew did visit such a world in the TV series, but Dave had not died. It was just an episode with a few amusing sight gags. In the book the gags had to be described and stuff that was implied became uncomfortably gross. This was combined with the tale of Ace Rimmer, the amazingly cool version (what a guy!) of Arnold J. Rimmer, the universal champion smeghead, travels from his own universe to that of Red Dwarf and eventually rescues our boys from death. That part was pretty good; I have always liked Ace (known for his trademark line “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!”), but there were no surprises in his story and it was fairly obvious by the way the story was told where the difference between Ace and Arnold began, although it was stretched out the length of the book.

It’s an okay book for long-time fans of the series who just want to be reminded about some of their favorite scenes, but the story itself doesn’t hang together well and the backwards physics are inconsistent as presented sop I was very dissatisfied.

 

The Audiobook:

Rob Grant read his own book this time around. I am not usually a big fan of authors reading their own, but, actually, he does a pretty good job of it.  He imitates the voices of the regular cast well. It might only be that he got their accents right, but I was able to imagine the actual actors were reading their own lines. And he did not go over the top with other non-human characters, some of which never appeared in the show (unless I have forgotten them). All in all, it was a pretty good performance.

So, we have a mediocre book that might only have been written to further cash in on Red Dwarf’s success, but Rob Grant reads it much better than he wrote it.

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