Review of Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick

May 12, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Vulcan's HammerVulcan’s Hammer
By Philip K. Dick; Performed by Mel Foster
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
6 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / Humanity / Future / Artificial Intelligence

Publisher summary:

After the twentieth century’s devastating series of wars, the world’s governments banded together into one globe-spanning entity, committed to peace at all costs. Ensuring that peace is the Vulcan supercomputer, responsible for all major decisions. But some people don’t like being taken out of the equation. And others resent the idea that the Vulcan is taking the place of God. As the world grows ever closer to all-out war, one functionary frantically tries to prevent it. But the Vulcan computer has its own plans, plans that might not include humanity at all.

Vulcan’s Hammer by Philip K. Dick was first published in 1960. The book’s origin however is an expansion of a novella that has been published previously and therefore places this story among some of the author’s very earliest science fiction works.  The book’s central theme of what makes us human versus that of a machine is one that continued into many of Philip K. Dick’s later and more popular novels.

The plot revolves around that of a supercomputer named Vulcan 3 which acts as the world’s leader. Most of the characters (including the main protagonist William Barris,) are Directors of an organization called Unity which represent various regions of the world on behalf of Vulcan. Another more mysterious group that call themselves the Healers appear to be trying to thwart the will of Vulcan 3. Another key character, Father Fields, is from this counter-group.

Narration is handled by Audie award winner Mel Foster whose many other audiobook titles also include Philip K. Dick’s The Zap Gun. I enjoyed his performance of the material here and plan to give his take on The Zap Gun a listen also. I recommend Vulcan’s Hammer as I found interesting the development of a theme which continued into many of the author’s later novels.

Posted by Dan VK

Review of We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick

February 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

We Can Build You by Philip K. DickWe Can Build You
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Dan John Miller
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
ISBN: 978-1-4558-1461-9
Published: August 14, 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 7 discs; 8 hours

Themes: / androids / healthcare / future / bureaucracy /

Publisher summary:

In this lyrical and moving novel, Philip K. Dick intertwines the story of a toxic love affair with one about sentient robots, and unflinchingly views it all through the prism of mental illness — which spares neither human nor robot. The end result is one of Dick’s most quietly powerful works.

When Louis Rosen’s electronic-organ company builds a pitch-perfect robotic replica of Abraham Lincoln, the firm is pulled into the orbit of a shady businessman, who is looking to use Lincoln for his own profit. Meanwhile, Rosen seeks Lincoln’s advice as he woos a woman incapable of understanding human emotions — someone who may be even more robotic than Lincoln’s replica.

Published in 1972, Dick uses the premise of a “future” (the book takes place in Dick’s imagined 1982) where programming is advanced enough to allow programming the appearance of sentience into androids to provide a treatise on mental health and mental healthcare.

In short, Louie Rosen and his partner Maury run a business making and selling electronic organs. One day, however, Maury decides to make an android of Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War. When he reveals it to Louie, he also reveals that his schizophrenic daughter, Priss, played a large role in developing the personality for it. The Stanton simulacrum is quite successful, and they make another, this time of Abraham Lincoln. They get the idea to pitch it to an investor, Barrows, to capitulate on Americans’ love for the Civil War (which at the time it was written, was nearing its centennial). Unfortunately, as Barrows and the crew spend more time with the Lincoln, they find that it is moody and seems manic. While this may be historically accurate, it could also be a projection of Priss’s beliefs about Lincoln into the programming. Where the Stanton android is personable, logical, and “normal,” the Lincoln is anything but. Eventually, Barrows decides to pass on the investment and instead make his own (which he will use as first settlers for a moon colony–an idea I would have preferred to read about). Priss ends up infatuated with Barrows and follows him back to Seattle. Louie, while talking to the Lincoln, seems to have also developed mental instability and runs to Seattle to bring Priss back. She shoots him down and he ends up committed. The story ends when Louie “gets over” his issues and is discharged to go about his normal life.

This was a book about ideas. Dick obviously had feelings about the state (and stigma) of mental health issues in the 60’s, both with regards to diagnosis and treatment. He almost seems to imply that we’re all mentally unstable/have our moments of instability…but he takes it to another level as to suggest that the state-run facilities do nothing to help people. Rather, the state-run facilities can actually make people worse.

In the end, this was a book of a lot of thoughts, not a lot of actions. There was a lot more dialogue an “thinking” than there was stuff actually happening; it was quite cerebral. This isn’t the kind of book I’m normally into…and in fact, as the book wore on, I found it hard to want to listen and hard to keep focused. I liked the idea of sentient androids, of “souls” built from research into real people…but it’s not for me. And probably not for everybody. But if you like “ideas” books, then it may be for you.

The narration itself was…interesting. Miller’s voice is somewhat flat, which can be good in an audiobook like this; he certainly didn’t try to project too much character into most of the voices. However, he did use different tones for female voices as compared to male voices. In that respect, it was somewhat grating; his female voice was almost pandering and was somewhat creepy. It made some “sexual” scenes between Priss and Louie extra-creepy. That said, it also helped to make me really believe that Priss was mentally ill…

It’s hard to believe, but this is the first PKD I’ve ever read. I’ve also never watched Bladerunner in its entirety. I don’t know if the rest of his stories are like this, so cerebral. If they are, I may skip them. I was lured in by the robots…and kind of turned off by everything else.

Review by terpkristin.

Review of Alien Voices: The Time Machine

September 11, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Alien Voices - H.G. Wells' The Time MachineH. G. Wells’ The Time Machine
By H. G. Wells, performed by a full cast
2 Cassettes, 2 CDs, Approx. 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 1997
ISBN: 0671575538 (cassettes), 0671575546 (CDs)
Themes: / Science fiction / Time Travel / Evolution / Future /

When a time traveler seeks a better world 802,000 years in the future, his optimism is shaken when he discovers that the human race has turned upon itself in a primal display of horror.

For their first adaptation, Alien Voices choose one of the most important stories ever written in SF. And with Leonard Nimoy as the time traveler and John DeLancie as the narrating friend of the time traveler, we’re among the pantheon of SF deities.

This adaptation is very faithful to the original story. A gentleman of the late 19th century invents a time machine. Over a dinner conversation with colleagues he explains that time is the fourth dimension. At their next dinner engagement he comes in bedraggled and tells them the amazing tale of his journey in time. The story he tells is of the year 802,000. He meets a gentle race called the Eloi. A Garden of Eden of sorts, but the Eloi are as simple as small children, but without their curiosity or enthusiasm. Another threatening race live in subterranean tunnels. They are the Morlocks and feed upon the innocent Eloi. After befriending a female Eloi, named Weena, and losing her during a battle with the Morlocks, the time traveler returns home to tell his tale to his colleagues.

The dramatization is well produced. Nice original music and crackling sound effects. But one effect was totally distracting and detracting to the story. The Eloi all spoke with this strange chorusing effect to their vocals. It reminded one of an alien or telepath, certainly not the sound of a child-like being described in the story. It’s as if their voice boxes bifurcated into a strange mutated form. This destroys the illusion that they are simple child-like.

Much of the time is spent with the time traveler reciting his adventure in long monologues of his future adventure. And although this is faithful to the book and Leonard Nimoy’s voice is golden, it does not take advantage of a cast recording and is more reminiscent of a traditional audiobook for long stretches at a time.