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
Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2)
By Suzanne Collins; Read by Carolyn McCormick
11 Hours, 41 Minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Scholastic Audiobooks
Themes: / Science Fiction / Dystopia / Government / Survival / Reality Television /
Catching Fire is an excellent book, staged about six months after Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the Hunger Games in Book 1. In this one, Katniss and Peeta head off for their victory tour, a trip around each of the 12 districts, ending with the capital, then their district.
Just before leaving, Katniss receives a visit from the President. There is unrest in the districts, some are preparing to rebel, and the president blames Katniss and her act of defiance during the televised Hunger Games. The President tells her that she must not only convince the districts, but him as well that her stunt was and act out of love, not out of rebellion. Things become more difficult when a Quarter Quell is announced, which occurs every 25 years. This throws Katniss and Peeta both back into the line of fire.
Suzanne Collins, the author, has written another great book. However, it follows the same basic storyline as the first book. Even so, there are a few things in it that are very surprising. I would not discourage anyone from listening to it. It is still a wonderful story.
Carolyn McCormick, the reader, did an excellent job once again. She read the parts very well. I really enjoyed listening to it. I really don’t have anything negative to say.
Posted by Danielson Kid (age 15)
The Hunger Games
By Suzanne Collins; Read by Carolyn McCormick
Audible Download – 11 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Scholastic Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Global Warming / Reality Television / Government / Oppression / Survival / YA /
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by 12 outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
The thing that impressed me the most about this book is how unpredictable it was. I have never listened to anything like it. Every time I expected a certain thing to happen it almost always happened the exact opposite.
The reader of The Hunger Games, Carolyn McCormick, was a very good reader, better than most I have listened to. Her ability to not only read the words, but put so much emotion into them was astounding.
The story is told from Katniss Everdeen’s point of view. Katniss lives in the twelfth district of a country which used to be North America, however due to multiple circumstances is now a country called Panem.
Long before Katniss was born, the districts rebelled against the capital, the capital eventually won. They subdued twelve of the districts and the thirteenth they completely obliterated. This is how the hunger games came about. The capital created the hunger games as a way to show the districts that they are still in control. To me this seems to be a kind of dictatorship.
When this story takes place Katniss is sixteen years old. She is fatherless and being the oldest, she provides food for her family. Since she and her family live on the very edge of District Twelve, which is called the Seam, she and her friend Gail regularly venture out into the wilderness to hunt for food. Katniss is excellent with a bow, and fairly handy with a knife.
To select the participants in each year’s Hunger Games, they have what is called The Reaping. The Reaping is when a representative from the capital comes to the district and calls two names, a boy and a girl. At this particular Reaping, Katniss’s little sister Prim, whom she loves above all else in the world, is called. Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place, and is taken into the battle that is expected to cost her her life.
The author expertly wove action, tragedy, romance, and suspense all into one book. The book on many occasions had every one of my muscles tensing up because I was scared for Katniss, or it had me crying because of so many bad things happening. It called almost every emotion to come fourth while I listened.
The only thing that disappointed me about this book was the ending. It was a good ending, but it was a sort of cliffhanger. I wanted more, the spot that it left off was very unsatisfactory to me. However this does not damage my opinion of the book very much. I am hoping desperately for a sequel. Five stars all the way.
Posted by DanielsonKid (Age 14)
Anne Manx and the Empress Blair Project
Starring Claudia Christian, Ellen Muth, and Robin Atkin Downes
2 CDs – 2 Hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: RRCA (Radio Repertory Company of America)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Humor / Private Eye / Government / War /
Before she meets the Empress Blair, Anne Manx (Claudia Christian) wants nothing more than to spend her quiet vacation getting a tan. Empress Blair (Ellen Muth), though, has a compelling problem. Her father has been killed, and she fears she’s next. If Anne Manx can keep the Empress alive for a mere two months, she’ll reach her eighteenth birthday and take over for her father. Complicating things is Mr. Logan (Robin Atkin Downes), who shows up just in time – but whose side is he on? Nothing is ever easy for Anne Manx, and she’s rapidly running out of lives.
This is the fifth installment of the Anne Manx audio drama series from Angelo Panetta and the good folks over at The Radio Repertory Company of America. Anne Manx is a superhero of sorts in this series, which can best be described as a comic book for audio. What’s special about Anne Manx? She doesn’t stay dead, but the number of her lives are limited. She’s got a job that requires those lives, too – she’s a planet-hopping private eye, and each episode presents new problems. In Anne Manx and the Empress Blair Project we find her on vacation at the Caraboo Islands, but the Empress Blair (of the planet Eranix), who’s sure she is a target for murder, interrupts Anne’s holiday. It takes a little convincing, but Manx agrees to help, and we’re caught up in another entertaining episode.
There are several things that set these RRCA productions apart from others. The quality of the actors is the most obvious. In this episode: Claudia Christian (Babylon 5), Ellen Muth (Dead Like Me), and Robin Atkin Downes, who is is a superior and popular voice actor that we’ve also seen on a B5 episode or two. I’ve enjoyed Claudia Christian as Anne Manx since the first episode (Anne Manx in Lives of the Cat). She’s tough, sexy, and I can’t imagine another actress in this role. Her co-stars in this one make the production an all-around joy to hear.
Another thing that I’ve mentioned in previous reviews is the script. This is a smart script that, though it doesn’t miss too many chances for sexual innuendo, is really funny at just the right places. Kudos to Larry Weiner for another job well done.
And lastly, the quality of the sound. Effects, music, and words combine in a way that I never wonder what the setting is, never wonder who is speaking, and I never lose the story. It’s easy to become completely immersed as a listener. My mind fills in the pictures, and I thoroughly enjoy listening.
So much so that I may just go find the first one and start over… back soon.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
Julian Comstock: A Story of the 22nd Century
By Robert Charles Wilson; Read by Scott Brick
21 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Government / Aristocracy / History / Politics / Global Warming / Civilization / Theocracy /
The United States of America has changed. Global warming fears have come to pass, Christian groups have become a stronger part of the government (practically its own branch, called The Dominion), aristocracy has ascended because fewer and fewer have access to so much. The average citizen in this 22nd century view of the future have taken a step backward. The scientific past has retreated into myth, and superstition rules the day.
In short, Robert Charles Wilson has taken a particular view of what the United States is and has taken it to extremes in “if this should continue” science fiction tradition. The characters do not feel futuristic – instead they feel historical. Like Firefly in a way, the characters are straight from the 19th century. This creates a very interesting juxtaposition of time: A possible future that’s really a look at the present, but with characters that feel historical. Sci-Fi Wire quotes Wilson on this:
The past regarding the present from the future—that’s a literary effect only science fiction can achieve, and that’s what I was aiming for, a kind of simultaneous triple perspective. We think of the past as quaint and the present as mundane and the future as, well, futuristic—but so did our great-grandparents, and so will our great-grandchildren. ‘All times have been modern,’ as the French composer Nadia Boulanger said.
The novel is told by Adam Hazzard, a friend of Julian Comstock, who is aristocrat (the Comstock family has held the Presidency for years and years). Hazzard tells us right up front that he’s writing this biography of Comstock because Comstock has become a great man.
The first scenes have the two as young men looking through a pile of discarded books. They take what they can carry, but Comstock gives a specific book to Hazzard; a history of manned exploration of the Moon. Hazzard doesn’t believe such things actually happened, but accepts the book anyway, and wonders.
From there, Hazzard uses events like this one to show readers the life of Comstock, but everything is colored through Hazzard’s point of view. In a way, the book is like a Sherlock Holmes novel, but Wilson has created a much more interesting character in Hazzard than Doyle ever did with Watson.
Scott Brick takes full advantage of the Hazzard character, and does well with the 19th century sensibility of all the characters. This book has a whole lot of detail and a whole lot of lengthy conversation between the main characters about various subjects. Brick keeps it interesting, like he always does. We even get to hear him speak French when the characters spend time in Montreal.
This novel is rich and draws on a rich tradition. A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Postman, and Earth Abides all leap to mind, but this isn’t a homage or a retelling of those books. This is a story that looks at the present in a way that only science fiction can.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
By Jeffrey A. Carver, based on the teleplay written by Ronald D. Moore and Christopher Eric James, based on a teleplay by Glen A. Larson
Read by Jonathan Davis
4 CD’s – 4 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Themes: / Science Fiction / War / Robots / Military / Government / Space Travel / Mythology / Religion /
Has anyone else noticed how good television has become during the past ten years? Well, 13 years. In 1993 Babylon 5 first aired, ushering in a new wave of science fiction and fantasy television that is both smart and damned entertaining. Following B5 was Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Many would put Farscape and Stargate in the same category. I haven’t seen enough of either to make that judgment. We could quibble about the list of this new wave all we want, but currently at the crest of that wave is the Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, which is, without doubt, the best science fiction show currently in production.
This audiobook is an abridgement of the novelization of the first Battlestar Galactica show, which was a 4-hour mini-series that originally ran in 2002. I admit that even typing that makes me wince. An abridgement of the novelization of a television show. How much farther from Shakespeare can a person get? Not exactly high falutin culture here.
But this story is edgy, tense, and complex. It opens with a complacent human race that has gotten used to life without their enemy, the Cylons. The Cylons were human-built machines that rebelled, then accepted an armistice agreement around 40 years before the beginning of this audiobook, which is primarily about the sudden unexpected attack on humanity by the Cylons. The attack leaves the Battlestar Galactica as one of the very few ships that survives, and the immediate aftermath sets up several storylines that are followed in the television series.
Jonathan Davis, who keeps pretty busy with the many Star Wars audio titles, narrates, and does his typical and excellent job with it.
I’m a fan of this series, and was happy to receive this audiobook. Though the audio offers nothing new over the miniseries itself, it was an enjoyable way to experience the story while driving. I’m not sure if Audio Renaissance plans to continue releasing Battlestar Galactica titles, but because of the nature of the series, they would have to release every episode since each one is dependant on what takes place before.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson