Posted by Jesse Willis
Posted by Jesse Willis
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney and others
10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
ISBN: 1574535145 (Cassette) – 1574535366 (Audio CD)
Themes: Science Fiction / Military / Space / Youth / Politics / Alien races /
In the not too distant past, the Earth survived a war with the Buggers, an insect-like alien race. One military man, Mazer Rackham, was able to make the difference in the war for humanity, but it is widely feared that the Buggers will be back. To prepare, the government has taken to monitoring the Earth for the next military genius. Everyone who is considered a candidate is taken from their families at a young age and placed into an orbital Battle School. Ender Wiggin, at 6 years old, is considered to be the best candidate – Ender’s Game is his story.
Ender’s brother (Peter) and sister (Valentine) also play a large role. They are both older than Ender, and both extremely intelligent. They also were both passed over for Battle School, one for being too dangerous and one for being too compassionate. They have their own way of influencing the events of the world, even though they are no longer considered for the military.
The Battle School is centered on a game in which teams (armies) of kids fight each other in a zero-g environment. They carry guns that shoot low power lasers and wear suits that react to those lasers by freezing wherever they are hit. By playing the game, the students are training in three dimensional combat, and the competition aboard the Battle Station is fierce.
Ender not only deals with the other students in this competition, but also the teachers of the School as they place him in more and more difficult circumstances. The story has much to say about means and ends, both personal and political.
Even though I had read it three times over the past 14 years, I was glued to this audio version as if I didn’t know what was going to happen. The audio is a treat. Stefan Rudnicki performs the main narrator duties, while a number of others perform the conversations amongst the adults, which occur at the beginning of each chapter. Orson Scott Card also recorded a postscript in which he discusses the origins of Ender’s Game as a novel. First-rate.
Philip K. Dick is dead, but his stories are more popular than ever. Linked below is a fascinating interview of Philip K. Dick, first broadcast on KPFK-FM in North Hollywood, California. The interview was recorded on June 26, 1976, and the interviewer is Mike Hodel of Hour 25.
Posted by Jesse Willis
The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer
By Neal Stephenson; read by Jennifer Wiltsie
12 Cassettes; Approx. 18 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Time Warner Audio
ISBN: 1586211145 (Cassette)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Nanotechnology / Computer Programming / Victorian Culture / Cyberpunk /
Earlier, I reviewed Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. It was one of the finest audiobooks I’d ever heard, and I feel that this one may be even better. Snow Crash was irreverent and whimsical, and The Diamond Age is that and more, with a plot that is both epic and personal.
Nell is a little girl, 4 years old when we first meet her. Her brother, Harv, gives her a stolen copy of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, an interactive (“ractive”) book that was designed by an engineer who wanted his own daughter to experience a bit more than the traditional education. Nell’s mother flits from abusive relationship to abusive relationship, with Nell and Harv protecting themselves as they can. Nell spends more and more time with the Primer, which teaches Nell through stories told by real interactive actors (“ractors”) via the Net.
The story is complex and mature. The main storyline follows Nell’s life, and along the way we see an amazing world. The world has become nearly tribal again with people gathering in Claves, each with their own rules and culture. Much time is spent in a neo-Victorian Clave, a place where Victorian culture is adopted because it is felt that one has to go back to the 19th century to find a viable model for society.
Stephenson explores two technologies in the novel as well, and they are both of equal influence on the story. The first is the Net and the entire idea of interactive entertainment, which makes the Primer possible. The second is nanotechnology, which is used in everything from planet building to the creation of stuffed animals in a Matter Compiler. There are also nano-mites which float in your bloodstream and can do anything from carry information to kill you with thousands of tiny explosions.
The drawback to this novel is its ending, which, though inadequate, would not keep me from recommending it. The rest of the book is so astonishingly strong, that to miss it would be missing one of the major works of modern science fiction.
The Diamond Age could not have been an easy novel to perform, but Jennifer Wiltsie did so admirably. This is the first I’ve heard her, and I hope to hear her voice often. She had just the right tone for this, and I had no trouble at all discerning the characters in this complex novel. An excellent job.
This title is also available on Audible.com.
Alien Voices: The Invisible Man
By H.G. Wells; Performed by John de Lancie, Leonard Nimoy and a full cast
2 Cassettes or 2 CDs – Approx. 114 minutes [UNABRIDGED DRAMATIZATION]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
ISBN: 067158104X (Cassette); 0671581058 (CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Invisibility / Fantasy / Star Trek / Classic / Philosophy /
One of Science Fiction’s seminal works is The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. It’s premise is intriguing. What would it be like to be hidden from view? At first, there would be the advantage of watching others without being noticed. But, what would you do when the novelty wore off and the invisibility didn’t? Would you become a prisoner of your own freedom? Or perhaps a madman bent on enslaving others?The novel was written in 1897 when the world believed that science could cure all ills, but as we will glean from the story of The Invisible Man, the achievements of the human mind are worthless without a human soul to guide them. Come with us now, as Alien Voices explores the tragic life of a young scientist who seemed to be on the threshold of a brilliant future and something quite unexpected happens.
This loose adaptation of H.G. Wells‘ The Invisible Man is quite…fascinating. It has been adapted in the style of an old time radio drama, the majority of the plot is there, but it has been compressed and massaged to fit the actors and sensibilities of the Alien Voices team. Alien Voices formed in 1996 to create multi-media works of science fiction and fantasy, drawing upon the copyright expired classics and the languishing resources of the Star Trek alumni. Its three founding members are actor/director Leonard Nimoy, actor/director/writer John de Lancie, and writer/producer Nat Segaloff. de Lancie and Nimoy headline the dramas, in this case playing the title character and his university professor respectively. The rest of the cast is rounded out by: Susan Bay, Richard Doyle, Robert Ellenstein, Jerry Hardin, Marnie Mosiman, Kate Mulgrew, Ethan Phillips, Dwight Schultz and Nana Visitor.
This production is very good, the sound effects, voice talent and music are all very well done. The script is quite different from the original novel, but those modifications are very well done. The packaging is merely adequate, a traditional cd jewel case, a cardboard box and some quickie photoshop art. But most conspicuous by its absence is a cast and character list. The cast is named at the end of the program, but we are never told which actor is playing which character. It is easy to tell Ethan Phillips and Nana Visitor, but its hard to identify many of the others. Of the other actors the only one who sounded at all familiar was one who sounded like Mark Twain. A little investigation, and I determined that it was likely Jerry Hardin who played Twain in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s two part episode Time’s Arrow!
The story itself has been modified and compressed, most of the original Wells’ version of The Invisible Man remains in this production. H.G. Wells is best remembered for The War Of The Worlds, which itself was adapted very early on by Mercury Theater and Orson Welles. That adaptation and a later film version had a lasting impact upon popular culture, making the idea of “alien invasion” almost synonymous science fiction, at least to the majority who don’t read it. But science fiction isn’t always about the future, or about space travel, or aliens invading the Earth. Sometimes it is subtler, and in the case of The Invisible Man, it proves itself deeply rooted in philosophy.
Those who examine science fiction closely will see a profound connection between science and philosophy. In the case of The Invisible Man, Wells started to explore what would be necessary for invisibility to work, (for it to be rooted in science and not merely magic), AND to explore the consequences of invisibility actually working. But Wells himself was drawing upon resources of an even earlier time. In the philosopher Plato’s famous book The Republic (itself a work of proto-science fiction), we are introduced to Gyges, a shepherd who finds a magic ring which can turn him invisible. Gyges soon discovers that he can act unjustly without anyone knowing. For Plato this was a story to make us think about what being just and injust really is. For Wells and Alien Voices it is more about telling a good story. But a little philosophy does manage to sneak into the plot; For the Invisible Man, invisibility is power, and possessing that power he can do a great many things, like get revenge. But revenge is hindered by a few stumbling blocks, first he has to go out naked, his clothing isn’t invisible so he can’t wear it. He can’t eat or smoke or walk in dusty areas, all of those things make him visible. Also he can’t carry anything, so if he steals money (he can’t earn it), it appears to float about of its own accord, making people chase after him! It is almost as bad as king Midas’s dilemma, like Midas, The Invisible Man got his wish but it isn’t quite working out for him. Dust and moisture make his body visible in a ghostly way. His footprints appear in the dirt and snow. Oh yes and the small matter that the accumulated effect of these things has driven him to the edge of madness.
I liked the story, but I was constantly reminded of one glaring problem not mentioned in production. Wouldn’t an invisible man also be blind? If his corneas are absolutely transparent and his retinas are absolutely transparent, how would light be turned into mental images? The answer…. they wouldn’t be! An invisible man would be blind! For us to see the world a fraction of the light that hits our retina must be absorbed into our rods and cones, our corneas must focus the light. This issue made the whole story so implausible, in my mind it made me question whether this was science fiction at all! Thankfully I got over it. And have come to realize that even if it is flawed by this oversight, at least it demonstrates that philosophical fiction like all good science fiction is able to make us think out problems that don’t seem obvious at first. Who’d have thought invisibility would require blindness? Not me, at least not before listening to Alien Voices: The Invisible Man.
Another new BBCi audiobook is online!
The Ghosts of Albion novella Astray, written by former Buffy the Vampire Slayer player Amber Benson and Christopher Golden, is available online as an audio book, read by actress Jasmine Hyde. Text and RealMedia audio versions will be launched at the same time, with one new chapter a week.
Find it here!
Posted by Jesse Willis