Review of Alien Voices: The Time Machine

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Alien Voices - H.G. Wells' The Time MachineH. G. Wells’ The Time Machine
By H. G. Wells, performed by a full cast
2 Cassettes, 2 CDs, Approx. 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 1997
ISBN: 0671575538 (cassettes), 0671575546 (CDs)
Themes: / Science fiction / Time Travel / Evolution / Future /

When a time traveler seeks a better world 802,000 years in the future, his optimism is shaken when he discovers that the human race has turned upon itself in a primal display of horror.

For their first adaptation, Alien Voices choose one of the most important stories ever written in SF. And with Leonard Nimoy as the time traveler and John DeLancie as the narrating friend of the time traveler, we’re among the pantheon of SF deities.

This adaptation is very faithful to the original story. A gentleman of the late 19th century invents a time machine. Over a dinner conversation with colleagues he explains that time is the fourth dimension. At their next dinner engagement he comes in bedraggled and tells them the amazing tale of his journey in time. The story he tells is of the year 802,000. He meets a gentle race called the Eloi. A Garden of Eden of sorts, but the Eloi are as simple as small children, but without their curiosity or enthusiasm. Another threatening race live in subterranean tunnels. They are the Morlocks and feed upon the innocent Eloi. After befriending a female Eloi, named Weena, and losing her during a battle with the Morlocks, the time traveler returns home to tell his tale to his colleagues.

The dramatization is well produced. Nice original music and crackling sound effects. But one effect was totally distracting and detracting to the story. The Eloi all spoke with this strange chorusing effect to their vocals. It reminded one of an alien or telepath, certainly not the sound of a child-like being described in the story. It’s as if their voice boxes bifurcated into a strange mutated form. This destroys the illusion that they are simple child-like.

Much of the time is spent with the time traveler reciting his adventure in long monologues of his future adventure. And although this is faithful to the book and Leonard Nimoy’s voice is golden, it does not take advantage of a cast recording and is more reminiscent of a traditional audiobook for long stretches at a time.

Review of The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Science Fiction Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audio Drama - The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan DoyleThe Lost World
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, performed by a full cast
2 Cassettes, 2 CDs, Approx. 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 1997
ISBN: 7671401800 (cassettes), 9780671577209 (CDs)
Themes: / Science fiction / Adventure / Exploration / Dinosaurs / Lost Civilizations / Archeology /

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known as the creator and writer of that most famous sleuth, Sherlock Homes. Doyle was somewhat resentful of that character’s phenomenal success as it overshadowed all his other writings. His most popular and enduring work that did not feature Sherlock Homes is The Lost World, the story of Professor Challenger and his team of explorers that go to the Amazon jungle and find a primeval plateau inhabited by dinosaurs and ape-men.

Alien Voices was formed in 1996 by Star Trek alumni Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie with writer-producer Nat Segaloff. These are full cast adaptations with sound effects and music. The Lost World was released as the third Alien Voices title after The Time Machine and Journey to the Center of the Earth. They recorded this release in front of a live audience during the Grand Slam’s Star Trek convention in 1997. The production values are great with terrific sound and a talented cast.

I’ve never read the original work by Doyle, so I won’t speak on the adaptation’s faithfulness. I did look over the text enough to know that the character of Professor Summerlee was switched from male to female for this adaptation. This was a wise move that added a dimension that was not in the original work. Professor Summerlee is played by Roxann Dawson and is strong-willed and independent. Which is as it should be, and Prof. Summerlee stands out as the most interesting character in the cast. Unfortunately, this is one of the few elements that seem fresh and interesting.

My main contention with this adaptation is that it moves too slowly in the beginning. Nearly the first third of the story takes place in London as Professor Challenger gathers his crew for the expedition. This story is an old one. Although as I mentioned I haven’t read the book, I am familiar with the story. We know there are dinosaurs coming, and yet we have to wade through the lengthy backstory. The narrative follows a straight chronological order. A better approach, while still being a faithful adaptation, would be starting the story in the Lost World with some heavy action. The backstory could then be filled with flashbacks in more episodic doses. One of the characters, Malone, is a newspaper reporter that goes on the expedition as a correspondent. The reporter sends dispatches to the newspaper. This narrative device could have been easily utilized to encompass these expositorial flashbacks. So despite a great performance by cast and crew, this versions pacing and lack of surprises makes it a tiring listen.

Review of Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

SFFaudio Review

Alien Voices - Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules VerneJourney to the Center of the Earth
By Jules Verne, performed by a full cast
2 Tapes, Approx. 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Published: 1998
ISBN: 0671872281
Themes: / Science fiction / Adventure / Exploration / Geology /

One should not drink from the same well of audio books in rapid succession. I recently listened to Alien Voices’ The First Men in the Moon, and found this one just a little too similar for my liking. The main characters in both consist of a crusty professor and a younger, more energetic helper; in both cases the professor is voiced by Leonard Nimoy and the younger man by John DeLancie; and in both cases the two men go off to explore some unknown world and discover amazing adventures.

This book suffers in the comparison not just because it came second, but because it isn’t quite as good. The plot involves a wild trip, but one that brings the characters into contact with only monsters and forces of nature, not other intelligences; whereas The First Men in the Moon brings us into an alien society that has chilling implications for our own. The soundscapes of this book are neither as rich nor as immediately immersive as the first, and the characters are not played that distinctly different. Leonard Nimoy is good, but he’s just so darned good-natured that his character only seems foul tempered by others’ report. His heart isn’t really in it, and Herr Doktor Liedenbrock comes off no less pleasant than the buzzing Professor Caver. And John DeLancie’s true talent comes in portraying morally suspect characters. Here, his sweet Axel, the Doctor’s nephew, never quite rings true.

Not to say either man does a bad job, or that the sound isn’t excellent, or even that the adaptation doesn’t rip right along and offer plenty of adventure, quaint as the concepts are. But it just doesn’t grab you in the gut, it doesn’t feel inevitable, and it doesn’t offer any fresh insight into the human condition. In short, it doesn’t bring a classic story from the dawn of science fiction into our living presence, and as such, it really isn’t worth the time. Based on my previous exposure, I think it would be a mistake to write off other Alien Voices titles, but I wouldn’t break any bones rushing out to get hold of this one.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

Review of The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

Science Fiction Audio Drama - The First Men in the Moon by H.G. WellsThe First Men in the Moon
By H.G. Wells, performed by a full cast
2 Tapes, Approx. 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Alien Voices
Published: 1998
ISBN: 0671872281
Themes: / Science fiction / Aliens / Sociology / Space Travel /

Oars slap against water and thud against wood, waves lap against a small boat bobbing in the ocean, and shore birds scree along the not-too-distant shore. You close your eyes and are transported to another time and place, a sonic virtual reality in which two fisherman sit to either side of you, discussing the catch and the mysterious steel sphere that falls from the sky. Such richly detailed soundscapes draw you into this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, and whisk you along from the familiar sounds of earth to the speculative sounds of deep space and the moon.

The acting is uniformly excellent, as well, with Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie leading a talented cast with their spot-on characterizations of Professor Caver and Mr. Bedford. These two form a buzzing, absent-minded scientist and cool, craven capitalist odd-couple who develop a spaceship built around gravity-blocking shutters and then fly it to the moon. The civilization they discover beneath the moon’s surface is, well, substantially alien. This tale isn’t quite Wells’, but it is told with such ebullience and impressive audio depth that you can’t help liking it. In fact, the genial enthusiasm that suffuses the entire production proves both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the work: It makes for fun listening, but it winds up blunting some of Wells’ sharper observations about humanity and reason.

On the plus side, this adaptation does an admirable job of streamlining Wells’ sprawling narrative to lead us effectively from the thrill of invention to the uncertainty of exploration, from budding friendship to estrangement, and from difficult first contact to horrifying understanding. But there are several missteps along the way. For one thing, the voyage to the moon has been clumsily appended with a comet rendezvous that cheerily ignores even Newtonian physics and leads to an incomprehensible predicament with the Caverite shutters. What’s more, a staged “revolution” on the moon is utterly unconvincing, and even more disappointing, the Grand Lunar is transformed from a rational genius to a power-mad egomaniac.

But the most important transformation is thematic. Wells’ original compares human terrestrial civilization with the formic lunar one to contrast life as we know it with his vision of a completely rational society. Both have distinct horrors: We have war and poverty, the Lunarites have de-evolved sub-races and casual deactivation of inconvenient units. In this production, the comparison seems more like one between Capitalism and Communism, and it reverses the threat at the end to be something like a Red Scare, which makes no sense when you consider which society has the more demonstrably violent past.

On the whole, this is a fun production and a treat to listen to. Enjoy it for what it is, but do not attempt to substitute it for a reading of the original.

Posted by Kurt Dietz