Review of Virtual Light by William Gibson

SFFaudio Review

Virtual Light
By William Gibson
Read by Frank Muller
6 Cassettes – Approx. 9 hours UNABRIDGED
List Price: USD $34.95
RECORDED BOOKS LLC.
ISBN: 0788782533

William Gibson’s novel, Virtual Light (1995), is a bit of a letdown. But this is primarily because Neuromancer (1984), is one of the best novels of the 20th century – so its no wonder lightning hasn’t struck twice. Though comparisons between Neuromancer and Virtual Light are inevitable, and reasonable, we should try to forget that William Gibson wrote such an incredible first novel – Neuromancer won the three most important science fiction awards (The Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Award)… we should try to forget – it ain’t easy – but we should try because Virtual Light is a good SF.

That being said, Virtual Light is a whole different animal, more modest in scope, set closer to the present (in 2005) and more resembles a venture into Elmore Leonard territory than a cyberpunk adventure. It really is a crime novel with a science fiction McGuffin. The McGuffin being, a pair of sunglasses that not only make the wearer look cool, but also make him or her almost superhuman. Here’s the premise – Chevette Washington, a San Francisco bicycle courier has stole some high tech sunglasses. Berry Rydell, private security guard and ex-cop is sent to track her and the sunglasses down. As usual with Gibson novels, the atmosphere created by the prose is spectacular, we see, feel, touch, taste and smell the world Gibson describes and it’s visceral. The characters are compelling, motivated and have cool names like “Rydell” and “Warbaby”. The plot is almost labyrinthine despite the stated simplicity and there are many stops along the way, but we don’t mind too much, the journey is enjoyable, the people are cool and the ideas original.

And of course being an audiobook, the narrator plays an important role in determining the outcome. Thankfully, Virtual Light is read by Frank Muller, which is a good thing. Muller has a good range of voices and a huge vocabulary so there aren’t any pronunciation errors (something that can take a listener right out of the narrative). Virtual Light is an interesting listen, and the unabridged version is definitely superior. The Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio version read by Peter Weller, is well performed but hard to follow, being abridged to a mere 3 hours and two cassettes. But if you are going to listen to this audiobook and you haven’t heard Neuromancer (or read it yet) listen to this one first, it won’t be a let down that way, and it’ll likely whet you’re appetite for more William Gibson.

Review of To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer

SFFaudio Review

To Your Scattered Bodies Go
by Philip Jose Farmer; Read by Richard Clarke
2 cassettes – 2 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Waldentapes (1985)
Suggested Retail: $14.95 USD
ISBN: 0681327731
Status: Out of Print – RARE
Themes: / Science Fiction / Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Mystery / The Afterlife / History / Series

My biggest problem with this audiobook is that it is over much too quickly. Like most early science fiction audiobooks, this is an abridgement of a novel, in this case a great novel. Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go is a Hugo Award winner (for 1972), and this alone makes it worth a look. But the story is intiguing enough to make you wish for more, a lot more.

Set on the huge and mysterious Riverworld, a planet whose central river is the new home to every last soul who ever lived on Earth – from prehistoric apemen to moon-dwelling future civilizations (and even an alien visitor to Earth). Our protagonist is the reborn Sir Richard Francis Burton, famed translator of The Arabian Nights, explorer, brawler, scholar, womanizer and adventurer. His quest? To discover the end of the river, the meaning of this world’s strange existence, where death is a mere inconvenience and food is magically delivered. With such nasty foes like a youthful Hermann Göring and some super evolved aliens called “Ethicals” to deal with, you know its going to be fun. Burton himself is fascinating to follow and I’d like to see if there is a good audiobook biography of him out there. The story itself runs two hours, read by some fellow named Richard Clarke, with a familiar but hard to place English accent. Clarke is backed up by a nicely accenting musical score.

The package is unique to Waldentapes (a line I’m sure we’ll be looking at again) a clear soft plastic case that opens in a very convoluted manner designed for quick sales and low cost it nevertheless has an interesting cover depicting actual events of the novel. While it is long out of print it is not impossible to find, copies turn up on a semi-regular basis on eBay, selling for very reasonable amounts. Since I wished this book was longer, I was happy to find an unabridged version from Recorded Books. Hopefully we will be able to post a review of that version here soon. All in all this is a good find and a valuable addition to any science fiction audiobook collector.

Review of Green Hills of Earth / Gentlemen, Be Seated by Robert A. Heinlein

SFFaudio Review

Green Hills of Earth/Gentlemen Be Seated by Robert A. Heinlein, read by Leonard Nimoy, Caedmon, 1977

Let me pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave me birth
Let me rest my eyes
On the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.

–Robert A. Heinlein’s Rhysling

I type that from memory, hearing Leonard Nimoy’s voice in my mind’s ear. These two stories make my favorites list probably for nostalgic reasons, though Leonard Nimoy is an excellent narrator. This was one of the first audiobooks I listened to as a youth – it was one of the tapes in my local library’s small collection. I found it one day while looking through the few old time radio cassettes. This was also my first exposure to Robert A. Heinlein, and I was hooked. I was struck (and still am) by Heinlein’s ability to make his future so normal to all the people in it.

The story of Rhysling, blind singer of the spaceways, was on one side of the cassette, and the story of a reporter’s dangerous lunar adventure was on the other. A top-notch performance from Nimoy made this a gem that I’ve enjoyed many many times. I have no idea where to find copies of this now. If anyone does, please let me know.

Review of Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein

SFFaudio Review

Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein; Read by Lloyd James
5 Cassettes – 7.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Blackstone Audiobooks
Date Published: 1999
List Price: USD $39.95 – IN PRINT
ISBN: 0786117451
Themes: Science Fiction / Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Mystery / Pulp / Politics / Mars / Spaceships / Acting / Theatre / Shakespeare

One minute, down and out actor Lorenzo Smythe was – as usual – in a bar, drinking away his troubles as he watched his career go down the tubes. Then a space pilot bought him a drink, and the next thing Smythe knew, he was shanghaied to Mars. Suddenly he found himself agreeing to the most difficult role of his career: impersonating an important politician who had been kidnapped. Peace with the Martians was at stake – failure to pull off the act could result in interplanetary war. And Smythe’s own life was on the line – for if he wasn’t assassinated, there was always the possibility that he might be trapped in his new role forever!

Some Heinlein readers believe that the philosophy in Starship Troopers was Heinlein’s personal philosophy. They’re wrong. Heinlein’s primary philosophy was to provoke thought by explicating political consequences of certain philosophies… and to be entertaining doing it. Double Star proves this emphatically, presenting a completely different political system than Starship Troopers. The plot is a well known one. As old as the fairy tale The Prince and The Pauper, The Prisoner of Zenda or The Man In The Iron Mask; As new as the Hollywood movie Dave (1994) starring Kevin Kline.

This unabridged audiobook has so much more: Interplanetary space travel, alien contact and political upheaval. But it also has a fully realized political system, political campaigns, theory of government, theory of acting, kidnapping, murder, dirty tricks and its a mystery! There really is no better science fiction writer than Robert A. Heinlein. There are other great books by other great writers but none is as great as the dean of science fiction RAH. The reason? Simply put, he tells damn fine stories and does so constantly. This novel is a great example of just that. With a wild premise and a somewhat divergent plot (from Heinlein’s various themes) it tells an implausible story plausibly with emotional impact. This book won a Hugo award for 1956 (Heinlein’s first) and deserved it. It’s a fun ride and highly enjoyable. Pop it in your cassette deck and enter a different world.

Search for this title on eBay

Review of War of the Worlds, Mercury Theater of the Air

SFFaudio Review

War of the Worlds, Mercury Theater of the Air, 1938

Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic War of the Worlds is itself a classic. The program is legendary for the panic it caused in some audience members when it originally aired on October 30, 1938. Welles played the first half of the story as realistic newscasts – “regular programming” is interrupted with convincing news of invading aliens. The drama then switches point of view to Welles’ main character, who wanders about the rubble-strewn streets looking for answers.

The story of the controversy caused by the broadcast is as interesting as the broadcast itself. A national debate ensued about whether or not to regulate radio drama in all sorts of different ways. It’s main effect was to illustrate that people can’t believe everything they hear, not unlike today’s graphics technology has proved that we can’t believe everything we see.

The quality of the script and the convincing performances of Orson Welles and the actor who, as a newscaster, described the emergence of the Martians from a crater left when they landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, make this one of my all-time favorite audio dramas.

This recording is available from many different sources – my copy was published by Radio Spirits.

Review of I Am Legend / The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

SFFaudio Review

I Am Legend / The Shrinking Man
by Richard Matheson
Read by Walter Lawrence
9 Cassettes – Approx. 12 hours UNABRIDGED
List Price: USD $72.00 – CURRENTLY OOP (out of print)
BOOKS ON TAPE INC.
(February 26, 1992)
ISBN: 0736621474

Read by Walter Lawrence, this double audiobook features two novels by Richard Matheson. Lawrence does a fine job in narrating both, Matheson’s prose is clear and powerful. I highly recommend this audiobook. Unfortunately, finding a copy to listen to may be rather difficult, this unabridged audiobook is out of print, you can try ADDALL.com or eBay, even better check the shelves of your local library.

I Am Legend
“From out of the night came the living dead with one purpose: destroy Robert Neville, the last man on earth. A mysterious plague has swept the planet leaving in its wake this one survivor. But there is still life of a sort–vampires, the strengthless half-dead who press on Neville from every side. He is almost tempted to join them in I AM LEGEND.”


I Am Legend is a vampire story and a psychological story, the hero, Neville, is the last man on Earth. Every night undead and living vampires pelt his suburban Los Angeles home with rocks. Every day he repairs the night’s damage, restocks his supplies, finds ways to keep himself from going mad, and – oh yes – hunts down the vampires and drives wooden stakes through their hearts. The novel jumps back and forth in Neville’s history, between when the plague first hits, killing his wife, to a few months after he the last man alive, to three years later when Neville is resigned to his new life as the last man on Earth. Neville is an everyman with a scientific disposition, when he isn’t killing vampires he’s studying the disease that causes it in the local library. He develops theories, tries to iron out the inconsistencies in it and performs gruesome tests on the vampires. He lives in hopes that maybe he’ll find someone else still alive, or be able to cure one of the still living vampires.

Richard Matheson has a pretty low profile for such a well known writer. I’d heard his name, but never read any of his books before this one. I knew that he been involved with the original “The Twilight Zone” (1959-1965) television series, had written the book that had been turned into the movie The Omega Man (1971) starring Charlton Heston, but had no idea what a great writer he was until I listened to this double audiobook. First let me tell you this, I think I Am Legend is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve heard hundreds. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll tell you this, its revolutionary, thought provoking and satisfying – and as I would find out after listening to The Shrinking Man, its one of Matheson’s on-going ideas.

The Shrinking Man

“It started simply enough in THE SHRINKING MAN. One moment Scott Carey was in the sunlight, the next he was being soaked by a warm, glittering spray. His skin tingled, and soon he began to change, to grow smaller and smaller, until his mere existence was at stake.”

The Shrinking Man is a good story, not a good science fiction story, but a good fable. In fact you probably heard the plot before, or saw the movie based on it, The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). Scott Carey is shrinking, everyday he loses 1/7th of an inch in height. The doctors don’t know what to make of it, the press loves the story and his family life is falling apart. Everyday Scott keeps shrinking, nothing can stop it, soon he can’t sit in chairs anymore, people on the street mistake him for a child, treat him as a child. He becomes a resentful, unable to do anything for himself he must depend upon his wife, his brother and eventually his own daughter, who now towers over him, for everything. At one point his own cat becomes dangerous to him. Scott is utterly alone and overtime he begins to cope with his diminutive height a new danger confronts him.

There are many frightening scenes in this novel, most notably a battle with a black widow spider that towers over our hero. There are poignant scenes, a visit to Mrs. Tom Thumb at the circus, a woman as short as he who lives in a doll house and to who being tiny is the only thing she’s ever known. There are also disturbing scenes, teenage toughs beat up and tease what they assume to be a child, and in perhaps the most disturbing scene Scott becomes the target of a drunken pedophile! But the novel is only surfically a science fiction story, and Matheson seems resigned only to the barest of explanations for what is happening to Scott. We’re told that it must have been an exposure to a concentrated insecticide that is causing the shrinkage, that the nitrogen is going out of Scott’s body at a regular rate. But as any student of subtraction knows a constant loss of 1/7th of an inch a day will eventually result in no height at all.

Pulp Cover images:
I Am Legend By Richard Matheson © 1954 Gold Medal Books
The Shrinking Man By Richard Matheson © 1956 Gold Medal Books