FREE LISTENS Review: War Of The Worlds by H.G. Wells

SFFaudio Review

War of the Worlds
By H.G. Wells
Free Listens Blog

Source:Librivox| Zipped MP3s
Length: 6 hr, 35 min, unabridged
Reader: Rebecca

The book: The basic plot of War of the Worlds was already familiar to me before I read it, though muddled by my hearing a rebroadcast of Orson Welles adaptation. In the book, a giant projectile from Mars lands in south England. Other projectiles follow the first, and soon, Martians in their tripod fighting machines are conquering the human populace. Wells thrusts the reader into the terror and confusion of war by narrating an eyewitness account of battles and the civilian panic. With the hindsight of history, we can recognize that Wells accurately predicted the horror of World War I gas attacks, the ruined landscape of the Blitz, and the dazed fear of 9/11.

The key to understanding War of the Worlds is not in Wells predicting the future, but in his description of his present. In 1898, the British Empire was at the height of its power, with colonies spanning the globe. The Victorians placed great hope in ideals like progress, science, and eugenics to make their lives better. Wells introduces into this world aliens who are more scientifically advanced and more highly evolved for using technology. He then flips the table on the complacent British by having these aliens conquer them, just as they had conquered others. I wonder: If Wells were alive today, what would he make his aliens look like and what would they do to our world?

Rating: 7 / 10

The reader: Although the name listed is Rebecca, the voice sounds rather masculine. Whatever the case may be, the refined English accent is well-suited to the character of the book’s narrator-protagonist. The other character’s voices are equally enjoyable, with my favorite being the artilleryman. The reader makes a few stumbles and there are some faint background sounds, but not anywhere near enough to interfere with this altogether wonderful reading.

Note: This book is still under copyright in the UK and EU, so the version offered here should not be downloaded by users in those countries.

Posted by Seth

FREE LISTENS Review: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard


Free Listens Blog

King Solomon’s Mines
By H. Rider Haggard

Source: Librivox | Zipped MP3
Length: 9 hr, 52 min
Reader: John Nicholson

The book: Set in British colonial South Africa, King Solomon’s Mines tells of the extraordinary adventures of big game hunter Allan Quatermain. Sir Henry Curtis hires Quatermain as a guide for an expedition to find Curtis’s brother, who disappeared while searching for the biblical King Solomon’s fabled diamond mines. Joining them in the expedition are Curtis’s friend Captain Good and Umbopa, a porter with mysterious purposes.

The action is told in an unadorned style that, along with the descriptions of Africa and its inhabitants, makes this Lost Civilization fantasy seem real. A major part of this realism is the character of Quatermain, who narrates the adventure in the first person with a sense of dry humor and a matter-of-fact tone. Quatermain is not a hero in the traditional sense – he admits to being a coward. Instead of a hero, he is someone that the reader can positively identify with: fair, practical, smart, and opposed to injustice, racism and greed. This enlightened protagonist, the fresh writing style and exciting plot make King Solomon’s Mines a great read.

Rating: 9/10

The reader: Nicholson has a deep plain voice that is a perfect match for Allan Quatermain. The book is filled with difficult-to-pronounce names and words in Afrikaans and Zulu, but Nicholson says them with confidence. Whether or not he’s right, I have no idea. The pace is sometimes too slow for my taste, but he does vary both the pace and volume. The recording has some background whine and a hiss on the esses.

Posted by Seth

FREE LISTENS Review: Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper


Free Listens Blog

Little Fuzzy

by H. Beam Piper

Source:Internet Archive |17 zipped MP3s|
Length: 6 hr, 45 min [UNABRIDGED]
Reader: Maria Lectrix

The book: Jack Halloway, a lone gem miner on the corporate-owned planet Zarathrusta, discovers a small furry alien hiding in his mining shack. The alien, whom he names “Little Fuzzy”, is friendly, and although primitive, appears to be intelligent. When word gets out about Little Fuzzy, it means bad news for capitalist Victor Grego. Grego runs the entire planet under a Terran Federation policy that allows the Zarathrusta Corporation to operate with little interference, but only if the planet is not home to a sentient life form. If the Fuzzies, as they come to be called, are sentient beings, then they own the planet and all the profits that the Zarathrusta Corporation has been making are forfeit. A legal battle ensues, a physical battle looms, and Jack discovers that he’s become responsible for a whole race of adorable aliens.

This is a fun young adult book with great depth. The early going is a little rough, as Piper introduces many characters one after the other before the reader can get a good handle on each. Later, as the relationship between these characters becomes apparent, the sense of being lost in a flood of minor characters diminishes. Toward the end of the book, the story seems to drag, but Piper is able to wrap up the plot before too much momentum is lost and arrives at a satisfying conclusion.

Although written in the 1960s, the book brings up many issues that are pertinent today. Piper’s descriptions of climate change, corporate and government distortion of science, and the need for ecological preservation make the story seem, at times, like it was written in the present day. The issue that becomes the centerpiece of the last half of the book, whether Fuzzies are sentient beings, is not as esoteric as it appears. Many of today’s most vexing ethical issues, such as abortion, stem cell research, and euthanasia, are in part, a debate over what divides a living thing from a sentient human being. To Piper’s credit, he makes the debate in his novel entertaining as it is enlightening. I finished the novel with both a smile and something to think about.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: Maria Lectrix delivers a delightful reading of a book she seems to love. Her voicing of the Fuzzies’ “yeeps” is a high-pitched squeal that sticks in the mind. She does an admirable job reading the other characters parts, though I would have preferred if she had made each voice more distinct so the characters could be more readily identified. I won’t say this is a perfect recording. There is a hiss when listening at higher volume and she stumbles over a word a few times. Yet, none of this interfered with my enjoyment of the novel, which in my mind, is the mark of a good storyteller.

Posted by Seth

FREE LISTENS REVIEW: Anda’s Game by Cory Doctorow


Free Listens Blog“Anda’s Game”
By Cory Doctorow
Length: Approx. 1 hr
Reader: Alice Taylor

The story: “Anda’s Game” uses the setting of an online fantasy game to explore how world-spanning issues of responsibility are present even in the games people play. Like much of Doctorow’s science fiction that I’ve read, this story takes place in a near-future or slightly alternate present. Anda, a high school girl, spends most of her time playing a World of Warcraft-like game. She and Lucy, a friend Anda meets through an online gaming group called the Fahrenheits, begin taking on in-game quests of a very unusual nature. As Anda begins to realize these quests are morally questionable, she is caught up in a situation she knows is wrong, but feels powerless to alter.

Doctorow fits a number of societal issues into his fiction and this story is no exception. His knowledge and care for his characters allow his handling of childhood obesity and game addiction to avoid the crassness of TV news shock stories. The story touches on rarely-discussed questions about sweatshop labor, world economy, and virtual economies. The story does not try to provide the answer to all these thorny issues, but instead suggests that relying on others through honest communication is the starting point for solving difficult problems, be they personal or international.

Rating: 7/10

The reader: Alice Taylor has a mumbly British accent, which makes it sometimes difficult to understand, but fits the main character perfectly. While individual words are sometimes unintelligible, whether through pronunciation or slang usage, the meaning is always clear. When a character in the story types, Taylor types along on her keyboard, making an aural equivalent to what authors sometimes do by changing typeface or indentation to indicate a written conversation over computer. Each of the three episodes is introduced and ended by Doctorow’s own comments on the story and his personal life.

Posted by Seth