Review of The Answer by Philip Wylie

May 15, 2006
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - The Answer by Philip WylieThe Answer
By Philip Wylie; Read by Joel Grey
1 Cassette – Approx. 90 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dove Audio
Published: 1996
ISBN: 0787105139
Themes: / / / / / / /

“What egotism, what stupid vanity, to suppose that a thing could not happen because you could not conceive it!”
– Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer from When Worlds Collide

This audiobook of The Answer (subtitled A Parable For Our Times), was produced by Stefan Rudnicki. You should care because whenever Rudnicki gets involved with a project you’re pretty much guaranteed of two things: 1. A quality story. 2. A quality production. Rudnicki is himself a talented narrator, he’s been involved with some of the best short story collections on audio, won two big fistfuls of Audie awards and even a Grammy. Most impresive of all he was the mastermind behind the SFFaudio essential audiobook edition of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card! I was only vaguely familiar with Philip Wylie’s work prior to this novellette, I’d heard his dystopian novel The End Of The Dream and known that he had co-written the novel that became the feature film When Worlds Collide. So I did some research, The Answer was originally published in “The Saturday Evening Post” in 1955, adapted to television the same year and then republished several times in paper-book form since. The story was written in the shadow of the cold war the context for which the unstated question is asked – with that shadow faded the story still has power, but I suspect that it has been somewhat diminished.

Aboard a United States aircraft carrier in the South Pacific a distinguished team of nuclear scientists, politicians, naval and air-force officers await the impending test of an atomic bomb. The test, code named Operation Bugaboo, makes one officer question the very fabric of his belief, or rather his lack thereof. Major General Marcus Scott is an agnostic and skeptic, a veteran of WWII with a long and distinguished career behind him. But after the test is conducted and a single unforseen casualty is reported Scott’s entire worldview is shaken to its foundations. Discovered, as an apparent casualty of the tremendous hydrogen bomb blast is a winged figure, one even his ubelieving eyes can only describe as an angel.

While at first very satisfing on a level of sheer storytelling I noticed upon repeated listening Wylie’s writing scaffolding, the somehat forced structure upon which the story relies for power. For believability’s sake there are really too many coincidences. The scientifically testable circumstances, which are what you are buying when you listening to science fiction – are flushed away into circumstances no easier to swallow than ‘historical’ reports of angels, as the subtitle suggests “a parable for our times?”. Is it really meant to be a parrallel with historical reports of angels? Or is the structure simply in place to give narrative meaning to the story? I don’t know. But no matter how it was made, the story is only going to be offering comforting evidence to a believer, and however well meaning the point of the story, “the answer” of the title is at very best, in my opinion, only a wishful maxim. Flavour me unconvinced while still having been emotionaly involved by the tale.

An added music consists of a pipe organ, woodwind and stringed instruments. These are used to subtly underscore the emotions of the two viewpoints shown. Varied music gives ethereal holiness, timelessness or thoughtful reflection to specific scenes and to underscore others with their absence. Though generally I prefer unaccompanied readings it isn’t overwhelming here. Reader Joel Grey shines, by packing an emotional wallop witout doing much in the way of characterization. He’s able to confer the general mood of frustrated sadness that the story requires given the limited role the characters have. This audiobook is now out of print but you can still get it through Audible.com.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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