Review of Neuromancer by William Gibson

SFFaudio Review

TIME WARNER AUDIO - Neuromancer by William GibsonNeuromancer
By William Gibson; Read by William Gibson
4 Cassettes – Approx. 6 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Time Warner AudioBooks
Published: August 1994
ISBN: 1570420599
Themes: / Science Fiction / Cyberpunk / Dystopia / Artificial Intelligence /

Neuromancer sent massive shockwaves though science fiction and popular culture upon its release in 1984. Those shockwaves can still be felt after 20 years. Neuromancer is the tale of Case, a console cowboy, otherwise known as a computer hacker who goes on a futuristic Odyssey spanning a nihilistic near-future Earth and slightly beyond. A rich background, experimentalist prose, cuttingly future-modern dialogue and a prophetic dystopian vision combine with a heist plot reminiscent of Elmore Leonard to make a novel that will undoubtedly win William Gibson an eventual title of GRANDMASTER.

Created for the 10th anniversary of the publication of William Gibson’s first and best novel, this audiobook is a SFFaudio listener’s delight! A careful abridgment and a masterfully executed production, this is perhaps the best version of Neuromancer in any form. While Gibson is by no means a trained actor or even a professional narrator, his voice is uniquely suited to this novel and his characters. Supplementing the terrific reading is a unique soundtrack made up of two U2 remixes, which really does amazing things. Now normally I’d say that the combination of accenting music, a non-professional narrator and an abridgment of the novel all would be a recipe for disaster. But this version of Neuromancer defies all my expectations, and makes this my candidate for perhaps THE BEST ABRIDGED AUDIOBOOK EVER PRODUCED!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Voice from the Edge Vol 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Voice from the Edge Vol 1 by Harlan EllisonThe Voice from the Edge Vol 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
By Harlan Ellison; Read by Harlan Ellison
5 CD’s – 6 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Short Stories / Artificial Intelligence / Time / Demons /

This is a collection of Harlan Ellison’s best (well… most popular) stories. The most oft-reprinted tales are here, among them: “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, “‘Repent, Harlequin,’ Said the Ticktockman”, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, and “A Boy and His Dog”. The stories are read by the author, who himself is a first-rate reader, lending an infectious energy to every story in the collection.

I personally know of no other author’s stories with which to compare Harlan Ellison’s. He’s arguably the finest writer of short fiction on the planet, building stories of great impact in such a short space. In “‘Repent, Harlequin'”, he gives us a parable of society’s dependence on the clock, making schedules look ridiculous enough to make one wonder what the heck we’re all doing. And this was written in the 1960’s! In “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, a man is given responsibility over the world’s last hour. The characters in “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” are trapped by a malevolent computer. These are great stories, every one. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection.

Stories included in the collection: “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, “Laugh Track”, “Grail”, “‘Repent, Harlequin,’ Said the Ticktockman”, The Very Last Day of a Good Woman”, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, “The Time of the Eye”, “The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke”, and “A Boy and His Dog”.

Review of Queen of Angels by Greg Bear

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Queen of Angels by Greg BearQueen of Angels
by Greg Bear; Read by George Guidall
14 Cassettes – 19.75 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date Published: 1991
ISBN: 0788763482
Themes: / Science Fiction / Nanotechnology / Artificial Intelligence / Near Future /

Emanuel Goldsmith, a famous poet, murdered eight people, then disappeared. Three people want to find him: an aspiring writer, an embittered scientist who wants to use him, and a policewoman who needs to put him in custody before the Selectors, a vigilante organization, get to him first.

What if human consciousness were just an algorithm resembling a computer program? In Queen Of Angels, Greg Bear shows us, and more. It is a future where someone changing his mind means “reprogramming” it to get rid of the mental flaws. A future in which nanotechnology enables people to radically change their physical appearance. A future where a criminal has his mind “debugged” instead serving a sentence in prison. And a future in which artificial intelligences strive to become self aware.

Queen of Angels is absolutely chock full of fresh and interesting Science Fiction ideas, but it can be quite confusing due to its six separate story threads. This clarity problem is compounded by a complete lack of explicit transitions. A listener attempting this audiobook must be prepared to pay very close attention. The story stagnates somewhat in the middle but it is ultimately worth the time because two of the narratives end in disturbing original ways.

Prejudice is a central theme in this novel. Nanotechnology and mental reporgramming technology has completely restructured society’s class system into the unaltered and the altered human camps. And the consequences meted out by these technologies make for a world where only the perfect “therapied” job seekers get high paying jobs and promotions.

Having previously enjoyed Greg Bear’s breathtaking novel Blood Music and his admirable short fiction collection entitled The Wind from a Burning Woman, I’d only recommend Queen of Angels to fans of those books who thought them easy reading.

Review of The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer

SFFaudio Review

The Terminal Experiment
by Robert J. Sawyer; Read by Paul Hecht
7 Cassettes – 9.25 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Date Published: 2003
Themes: Science Fiction / Near Future / Artificial Intelligence / Canada / Mystery /

It started as an experiment in life after death. It ended in death. Dr. Peter Hobson has created a monster. Three of them, in fact. In order to test his theories of immortality and life after death, he has created three electronic simulations of his own personality. The first Hobson has all memory of physical existence edited out. It will simulate life after death. The second Hobson is without knowledge of aging or death. It will simulate immortality. The third Hobson is unmodified. A control. But now all three of them have escaped from Hobson’s computer into the worldwide electronic matrix. And one of them
is a killer . . .

— from the back cover of the paperback

Prior to this production, no Robert J. Sawyer audiobook had ever been produced, so it was with much anticipation that I discovered Recorded Books was set to release the winner of the Nebula and Aurora awards for Best SF Novel of 1995, The Terminal Experiment. And what a fantastic choice it was! It was originally serialized in Analog Science Fiction magazine’s Mid-December 1994 through March 1995 issues as Hobson’s Choice. Sawyer’s story is absolutely original, thoroughly engaging and certainly the best audiobook I’ve listened to this year.

Sawyer is a fantastic structural writer, a craftsman capable of laying out the ideas in just the right order. We get meaty philosophical thought experiments and thus pure HARD SF, and as a bonus, as with most of Sawyer’s novels, a baffling mystery that needs solving. Reader Paul Hecht does a good job narrating, characters come across well and you always know who is speaking. Aside from a very few pronunciation problems it is a perfect reading. I had previously read the paperback version of this novel so upon listening this time I was really able to sit back and enjoy the details much more. And there is a lot of detail to enjoy: in one chapter we get a humorous episode of computer hacking. The computers of Shopper’s Drug Mart (a Canadian drug store chain) are un-hackable, yet a “Food Food” fast food delivery service (a thinly veiled Pizza Pizza) and the Canadian federal government medical database computers are both hacked by a murderous Artificial Intelligence. Social commentary or simply a joke? Either way it’s a funny chapter in what is often a tense and deadly serious murder mystery. We also get a fascinating explication of why funny is funny, it’s all about making new mental connections.

One major/minor quibble I noticed the second time through though; Dr. Peter Hobson our protagonist in collaboration with another scientist, invents a machine capable of mapping all electrical activity in the brain. When a patient dies a the device tracks a mysterious “soulwave” leaving the brain we later learn that it heads off towards Alpha Centauri. All absolutely fascinating, and rather important to all the philosophical explorations and plot developments that follow. But I can’t help but wonder why such a “soulwave” must logically be proof of a soul. Yes it is evidence for a soul, but surely not proof. Hobson has this same doubt, but it eventually passes and he accepts the majority opinion that it does indeed constitute proof of the soul. I guess the problem here comes down to a “who wants to read six chapters on epistemology when it’s the idea that is important” question. And that is why I say it is a major/minor quibble. Ultimately I don’t like such a major conclusion like that just getting away unexamined. But on the other hand any science fiction story worth its salt is allowed one ‘gimme’, a conceit, be it faster than light travel, telekinesis or anything else impossible by what we know of science. Perhaps this is just a case where the conceit isn’t of the usual form, being more of an identification/epistemological problem than an “absolute impossibility” problem.

The packaging for this audiobook is interesting in itself. Recorded Books has decided to market in two formats. Both editions share original commisioned cover art that while visually interesting may be somewhat misleading (see picture above). The library binding, available for additional cost, is of the durable vinyl clamshell type, which makes for attractive and secure storage of tapes. “The Collectors Edition”, the one I got, is less expensive and is essentially just a cardboard box with a printed insert. That may sound rather disappointing, but it isn’t. Audiobook packaging typically comes in two varieties, SUPERB & EXPENSIVE (designed for durable extended usage, typically the type needed for public libraries) and CRAPPY & CHEAP (designed solely to get the product to market cheaply). This “Collector’s Edition” packaging is in-between the two; it is a step above the typical thin cardboard and millimeter-thick plastic of the CRAPPY & CHEAP designs, a compromise between durability, space efficiency and cost. The cardboard is thick, a clear plastic sheet protects the printed insert, and the customizable interior is held rigid by styrofoam inserts. I still prefer the library style bindings, standard with Blackstone Audiobooks and Books On Tape audiobooks but my wallet can’t always afford it.

Quibbles aside, it’s a great audiobook, and my sincere hope is that Recorded Books, Blackstone Audiobooks or Books On Tape see fit to produce another unabridged Robert J. Sawyer novel soon. If they don’t Scott and I might have to do it ourselves, they’re just that good.