Please welcome our newest reviewer, Marissa! You can also download our podcast readalong discussion of this book.
The World Jones Made
By Philip K Dick; Read by Christopher Lane.
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] 6 discs – 7 hours
Themes: / precognition / relativism / post-apocalpytic / carnival / government /
Floyd Jones has always been able to see exactly one year into his future, a gift and curse that began one year before he was even born. As a fortuneteller at a postapocalyptic carnival, Jones is a powerful force, and may be able to free society from its paralyzing Relativism. If, that is, he can avoid the radioactively unstable government hit man on his tail.
So far, every Phillip K. Dick book I read makes me fall in love with him a little harder. This one didn’t disappoint.
PKD’s protagonist in The World Jones Made is a dedicated, world-weary secret-service officer for FedGov, the world government in 2002. He thinks of himself as something like “the town dog catcher,” and he’s proud of his work, even if other people (including his wife) don’t much appreciate it.
Cussick’s job is to help enforce the new Relativistic society in which just about anything is tolerated and you can believe whatever you want, but you can’t state personal beliefs as facts or impose your views on anyone else. The world has recently emerged from a huge religious war that nobody really won, and now religious dogma as well as anti-religious dogma (or any kind of fanaticism) is illegal.
Of course, there’s a dystopian twist: anyone who is caught stating their personal opinions as facts loses their civil liberties and is sent to a labor camp.
The story starts when Cussick meets a weird, slightly feverish fortune-teller named Floyd Jones at a carnival. Cussick arrests Jones for talking about the future as fact, but it soon becomes clear that Jones isn’t just spouting opinions; he’s a true precog. The FedGov police are forced to release him (just as Jones knew they would), and Jones’ subsequent cult following soon begins to upset the “stability” FedGov had forced on the population.
This is the set-up to the main plot, but I haven’t even mentioned the sub-plots that run alongside and intertwine the Jones/Cussick story, like the strange mutants who live inside a hot, steamy biodome refuge near San Francisco. There’s also the problem of the barn-sized jellyfish-aliens that have been drifting down from space to die on Earth’s surface. No one really knows what “the Drifters” are or what they want, but people find them kinda disgusting and scary (fair enough) and have a tendency to attack them in angry mobs.
FedGov, meanwhile, is trying to protect the aliens from injury, in case whatever has sent them doesn’t appreciate mob attacks by Earthlings. One of the notices up on a bulletin board in this future world goes like this: “WARNING TO THE PUBLIC: Migrating Protozoa not to be harmed. The public is hereby advised that certain Interplanetary Migratory Protozoa, referred to as “Drifters,” have, by special act of the Supreme Council of the Federal World Government, been placed in the category of Wards of the State and are not to be damaged, harmed, mutilated, destroyed, abused, tortured or in any way subjected to cruel or unusual treatment with intent to injure or kill.”
The scenery and situations in this book are pure PKD: dark and grim and bizarre. There are mutants, precogs, wives behaving mysteriously, and smoky subterranean bars where patrons order heroin from robot servants and hermaphrodites perform live sex shows on the stage.
PKD switches viewpoints between the characters of the main story-lines: the biodome mutants, Cussick, and of course the fascinating Jones, who is a long-suffering prisoner to his own future: his ability to see one year in the future means that he must experience every conversation and event twice (to his extreme irritation).
For me, Christopher Lane’s reading was just about perfect: his calm, determined narration and pacing is well suited for PKD’s writing. The characters already had distinctive personalities and voices, but Lane managed to enhance them. He also did a great job with the female voices by adjusting his tone, accents and pacing without affecting that artificial high pitch I’ve heard some other male narrators do (cringe). I especially loved how he portrayed Jones’ bored frustration at having to live every moment twice over.
I’ll definitely look out for more of Lane’s readings, and I highly recommend this audiobook as a brilliant and weird PKD experience.
Review by Marissa van Uden
Something Wicked This Way Comes
By Ray Bradbury;
Performed by Jerry Robbins and the Colonial Radio Players
2 CDs – 2 Hours [AUDIODRAMA]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Themes: / Horror / Fantasy / YA / Carnival / Americana / Ray Bradbury /
A good title might not have the verbal worth of a picture, but it’s certainly up there. And the title of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes is way up there. Not only is it delightful to say out loud, it also provides an insight into the language and theme of the story.
By evoking Shakespeare, Bradbury’s title announces his nervy aspiration to transform the language of America’s heartland into something approaching poetry. Hearing our rattle-trap vernacular transposed into song-like perfection is among the greatest attractions of this performance. Not that it always works, mind you. Sometimes, the witty exchanges between characters devolve into a series of confusing monosyllables, and sometimes the sheer weight of the mighty words flattens the actors beneath them. But the portentous speech of the lightning rod salesman in the opening scene is as perfect a transfiguration as the symphonic thunderstorm in Beethoven’s “Pastorale”.
But beyond simply the sound of the story, the title references MacBeth’s supernatural temptation, and thus foreshadows the wickedness to come. As MacBeth is undone by the crones’ magic, so are the residents of Greentown, Illinois undone by the magic of “Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show”. But since Bradbury writes not to noble Elizabethans, but to working class Americans, his heroes and victims are not men who would be kings, but aging fathers who wish to be younger and abler for their sons, fatherless young boys who dream of being old enough to be on their own, and solitary schoolteachers who yearn to relive their lives in better company. I think these differences say a lot about who we are as a people. The familiar and familial desires that lead Bradbury’s protagonists into peril seem comfortingly domestic compared to the brutish ambition that drives MacBeth.
Beyond the title, there is magic only Bradbury can conjure, such as the wonder and awe of his mythical boy-heroes. Such beings appear in many of his works, but Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are two of his best. They climb down trellises in the middle of the night to feed on moonlight and shadow, train whistles and silence. They revel as much in books as in footraces, as much in fantasy as in fact. They are breathless and happy, serious and trustworthy. These characters are to real boys as their poetic utterances are to natural language: Graceful distillations of an awkward truth.
And I love the depiction of Will’s father. As with the other elements, the relationship between Will Halloway and his father is a Platonic ideal form of what is so often messy, confused, and rueful in our own lives. How I wish I could be that father—wise and patient, kind and indulgent in all the right ways—to my own son.
One final note on the story: I have always been a little disappointed by the ending. I know, I know, the weapon against evil employed here has its roots in folklore, but it still feels a bit like defeating Godzilla with a wiffle-ball bat. After the scene in the library between Will’s father and Mr. Dark, it is a bit anticlimactic.
But the novel is still a landmark, and this dramatic production is itself very good. Child actors are somewhat hit or miss with me, but the ones who play Will and Jim mostly hit. In the gentler scenes, the actor who plays Will’s father is excellent, although he sounds a little young for the part. If he can’t quite carry the load of some of the scenes of heavier conflict, I think Bradbury’s prose is partly to blame. Such lofty words don’t easily come off with the down-to-earth punch we’ve come to expect.
All in all, this is a very good production of an American classic. It should be played and replayed, savored and shared with the ones you love.
Posted by Kurt Dietz
Something Wicked This Way Comes (with A Sound of Thunder)
By Ray Bradbury; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
8 CD’s – 9.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Date Published: 2005
Themes: / Fantasy / Halloween / Carnival / Magic / Supernatural / Aging /
Sometime each October, a line is crossed; the line between falling leaves and fallen leaves, between shirtsleeves and a jacket, between the relief that summer has ended and the slight dread of the upcoming winter. Most of us don’t really notice the moment of crossing; we look up sometime afterwards and wonder where all the pumpkins came from. Some people, though, are exquisitely aware of this moment; they live in it, they draw it out and savor it, and a special few of them create art about it that allows the rest us to actually experience it. Dave McKean captures it with his eerie photo collages, M. Ward puts his old-young-man voice to good use singing about it, particularly in a track called “One Life Away,” and Terry Gilliam almost-but-not-quite captured it on film in the recent The Brothers Grimm. Ray Bradbury did some of his best work while inhabiting it. In The Illustrated Man and The October Country, he told stories about people’s lives intersecting that weird border. In The Halloween Tree, he abandoned story for the most part, and spent his time describing the sensory experience of the moment of crossing. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, recently released as an audiobook by Blackstone Audio, he skillfully combined plot and description to examine this and life’s other unnoticed, but profound, sea changes.
Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are the young protagonists of the story, best friends born just two minutes apart, but each on a different side of the line. Each of the boys personifies their respective border country; Will is blue-eyed and blonde, responsible, mannered, charming, the type of kid who looks like he was born wearing a scout uniform. Jim is darker, his eyes and his hair, but also his mood and personality. While it would be easy (and tempting) to say that Will is “better” than Jim, Bradbury shows his wisdom by describing the value of both of the boys’ attributes, how one, without the other, is vulnerable and incomplete, and how the different elements each boy bring to the friendship ultimately strengthen it.
The story follows Will and Jim as they cross a number of boundaries; the October line, the line between boyhood and adolescence, and the line between innocence and experience. The arrival of a strange carnival to the boys’ idyllic town complicates these passages. “Cougar and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show” is indeed something wicked, and the danger it presents to the boys and their town makes for an engaging, suspenseful tale.
Audiobook veteran Stephen Rudnicki reads Something Wicked, and gives a largely enjoyable performance, with only a few rough spots. Listeners familiar with Rudnicki will understand that dialogue between two pubescent boys isn’t exactly the perfect material for his sonorous voice. Everything is forgiven, however, when Mr. Dark makes his entrance. Rudnicki’s reading of the tattooed ringmaster’s introductory sentence literally gave me chills. Mr. Cougar, the Dust Witch, and the rest of the Shadow Show freaks are also done justice by Rudnicki’s interpretations.
Blackstone Audio seems to have heard my pleas for more DVD-type extra features on audio books, and have included an extra disc with a Bradbury short story, “A Sound of Thunder,” also read by Rudnicki. The story, a powerful exploration of the dangers of time travel, was recently made into a motion picture starring Edward Burns (and almost universally panned).
An interesting element of this audio book is that, whether by accident or design, the discs almost invariably ended at a point of terrific suspense. Rather than simply turning a page to assuage my anxiety about the fate of the characters, I was scrambling to eject discs, open cases, balance discs on my various fingers and insert new discs. Call me a masochist, but I thought it actually made the experience more enjoyable. Even listeners who don’t share my Hitchockian penchant for prolonging a story’s tension will have a hard time finding a better group of guides than Bradbury, Rudnicki, Jim, Will, and Mr. Dark for this year’s passage over that peculiar line.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
By Ray Bradbury; Read by Paul Hecht
7 CD’s – 8 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date Published: 1999
Themes: / Fantasy / Halloween / Carnival / Magic / Supernatural / Aging /
First of all, it was October. A rare month for boys.
— Prologue, Something Wicked This Way Comes
As I write this, it’s a cool October night. The trees outside are starting to drop autumn leaves. It’s not difficult, especially after finishing this novel, to see why October turns my thoughts to Ray Bradbury more than any other author. He can instill the spirit of Halloween in a person the same way that Dickens instills the spirit of Christmas, and Something Wicked This Way Comes is his work that does it best.
Paul Hecht, in one of his finest narrating performances, reads this unabridged version of Bradbury’s novel, and adds an infectious enthusiasm to the poetic prose. I was captured by his performance.
The novel revolves around Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, who are best friends. They are both nearly thirteen years old, and it’s the week before Halloween. Into town comes a lightning rod salesman who warns of an approaching storm. Later that same night a carnival comes to town, full of bizarre people and sinister magic. The boys are immediately drawn to it and, after an unsettling event involving a carousel, know that they are dealing with something dangerous and powerful. The two boys are very different people, so they react to the carnival, its people, and its magic in different ways.
Something Wicked This Way Comes is a novel full of images. The carnival, the carousel, the boys themselves running here and there, the lightning rod covered with ancient symbols… those images come through with crystal clarity in this audiobook. Happy Halloween!
Posted by Scott D. Danielson