Review of The Man Who Traveled in Elephants

The Man Who Traveled In Elephants
Adapted by Brad Linaweaver from the short story by Robert A. Heinlein; Full Cast Production
Publisher: Atlanta Radio Theater Company
Published: 2001
ISBN: 0929483316
Themes: / Fantasy / Pastoral / Ghosts /

Once there was a traveling salesman, a Man Who Traveled in Elephants. For years he traveled with his beloved wife. Now he travels alone and all the Carnivals and Festivals and State Fairs are blending together. Of all the human sorrows, loss and loneliness are perhaps the greatest. But there is the faint sound of a distant calliope in the air and the sugary scent of cotton candy and popcorn. And something wonderful is about to happen to the Man Who Traveled in Elephants.

This is supposed to be the most Ray Bradbury-like story of Robert A. Heinlein’s career. And it has a lot of those Bradburyesque elements to be sure; the nostalgia for the America between the wars, a peaceful pastoral setting spiced up with unusual inhabitants… but there is no mistaking the Heinleinian dual signature on The Man Who Traveled In Elephants – for one, it has those most Heinleinian of Heinleinian characters. You know the ones I mean – characters who in one scene speak with more self-assurance than anyone else in the entire universe and who just mere minutes later are unbelievably skeptical about there own ability to even tie their shoelaces! Heinlein wants to have it both ways, and this trait along with his other bad habit – that of setting up the most pathetic straw-men for a protagonist to knock down – are to put it bluntly completely infuriating. Thankfully, that’s really about all you can complain about Heinlein’s writing here – otherwise it’s simply brilliant, he’s bursting with fresh ideas, and uses a strong narrative voice. Heinlein is authorial legend who really lives up to his reputation! The Man Who Traveled In Elephants doesn’t travel the usual Heinleinian paths. It feels far more like an Ayn Rand style explanation on what is important in life. It’s also a love story. Surprisingly, it’d fit in quite comfortably as an episode of the original Twilight Zone television series. For those who’ve read a bit about Heinlein himself it may even seem like a very personal story, as if Heinlein was writing a coda for his own relationship with his wife Virginia.

The performers, including Harlan Ellison as the ringmaster, do a uniformly excellent job – sound quality is great – the only production gaff it seems to me was the barking dog, which sounded a little artificial, but then they usually are so I can’t slight them for below average on that. The audiobook comes packaged in a DVD style amaray case with liner notes on the inside – a very cool idea. Cover art is great fun, featuring a carnival and in the background and two vaguely familiar people on the cover. The CD itself has a neat introduction from Ray Bradbury at the world premier of this play. Also added is a short dramatized ghost story by Brad Linaweaver entitled A Real Babe. This is an excellent bonus story and works well on its own. My only caveat for this audiobook is that it should be heard with no ambient background noise – use good headphones, a quiet room or a solid pair of high fidelity speakers, the stereo effects and foley background sounds shouldn’t be missed – any ambient noise will seriously impair the complete experience.

Posted by Jesse Willis