Review of The World Set Free by H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells Month

Science Fiction Audiobook - The World Set Free by H.G. WellsThe World Set Free
By H.G. Wells; Read by Shelly Frasier
1 MP3-CD or 6 CDs – Approx. 6.5 Hrs [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1400150108 (MP3-CD); 1400100100(CDs)
/ Science Fiction / Atomic Power / Atomic Bombs / War / Utopia / Politics / Futurism / Prophecy / World State /

“Never before in the history of warfare had there been a continuing explosive; indeed, up to the middle of the twentieth century the only explosives known were combustibles whose explosiveness was due entirely to their instantaneousness; and these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night were strange even to the men who used them.”

The Father of Science Fiction first works are still among our classics. With excellent treatments of alien invasion (The War of the Worlds), space travel (First Men in the Moon), proto-genetic manipulation (The Island of Dr. Moreau), and of course time travel (The Time Machine). In his first decade of a writer he had written these classics as well as The Invisible Man, and The Food of the Gods, as many classic short stories.

Wells continued his writing career for another 40 years. Always remaining a popular author. So what happened to all these books he wrote? What happened to this iconoclast of SF? Why were his later works seldom reprinted and so hard to find? In his day, books like Tono-Bungay and Ann Veronica were huge critical and commercial successes. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and other public domain sites, his more obscure works are now obtainable. Much of his later work does not qualify as SF. But there are a number of his novels that deal with prophecies and future utopias and do qualify as SF.

The World Set Free was one of those future visions. Written and published upon the cusp of World War I, the novel proves that Wells had a gift for prophecy, although many of the details played out in a different way. In the novel the World War would not occur till 1956.

The main impetus of the novel is the advent of atomic power, both as a bomb and as a power source. The atomic bomb has many similarities to the actual bombs, including decaying radiation. Wells’ portrait of a World War would lead to numerous atomic bombs destroying civilization.

Wells had hoped from the ashes of a World War that nationalism would dissolve and a new world state would evolve. He portrays the World War in a horrific way. For one who saw the war as a way to a new world order, he does not handle the horrors of war with kid gloves.

Wells uses a narrative device that this book is written from a far utopian future. And from this far future perspective, it tells of the dark days of the war and then of the end of countries and the beginning of the world state. The tone is scholarly and leaves the listener/reader distanced from the characters.

I believe Wells started to see himself as an educator to the masses. That through his writing, both fiction and non-fiction, he could change the world. Sounds like a maniacal delusion, but he was an extremely popular writer. He was the equivalent to a rock star in terms of cultural popularity, but with the intellectual clout of an author. Unfortunately this didactic charge, he placed on himself, put storytelling subordinate to the message. Despite these flaws, the novel is filled with many thought provoking ideas.

Shelly Frasier narrates the novel. After an introduction, in which she speaks with an American accent, she switches to an English accent for the text of the novel. After getting use to this change, I found her accent and characterization quite good and she turns in a solid performance.

Review of Vortex Blaster by E.E. "Doc" Smith

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Audiobook - Vortex Blaster by Doc E E SmithVortex Blaster
By E.E. “Doc” Smith; Read by Reed McColm
1 MP3-CD or 6 CDs – Approx. 7.5 hrs [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books in Motion
Published: 2007
ISBN: 159607793X (MP3-CD); 1596077921 (CDs)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / Atomic Power / Galactic Civilizations /

I was pleasantly surprised listening to this new audiobook. My past experience with Smith’s books has been less than stellar. On more than one occasion, I’ve cast his novels down unfinished in favor of something else. E. E. “Doc” Smith is one of the most revered names in SF. So I’ve always thought I must be missing something. Anybody who knows my tastes or my podcast knows that I love old SF (as well as new). I’ve always found his overly heroic heroes and his wimpy, fainting females hard to care about. So when I received this new title, my expectations were not the highest.

Neil “Storm” Cloud is the main protagonist and the “Vortex Blaster” of the title. Uncontrolled atomic vortexes have been appearing on planets throughout the galaxy. The vortexes contain radiation and wildly incalescent temperatures. They only grow larger over time and threaten to destroy any worlds they appear upon. Think of them as nuclear tornadoes that never dissipate. Luckily, Cloud has a unique gift—a computational mind that is capable of astonishingly complex mathematics. As the novel opens we find out that he’s been working, without results, on a project to figure out how to stop the vortexes. He has just lost his wife and kids to one of these atomic infernos. Nearly suicidal and distraught, he leaves the project when he has a sudden inspiration on how to stop the phenomena. He has to be in the center of the vortex and has to set off a duodec explosion equal to the energy of the nuclear storm. And because of his unique computational mind, he’s the only man that can do it—and thus becomes the Vortex Blaster. Cloud’s new ability makes him very much in demand. He’s soon traveling across the galaxy to put out the worst vortexes until he finds himself set upon by space pirates, warring aliens, and a mad scientist.

If this all sounds rather pulpy and fun— it is. Vortex Blaster mixes ripsnorting adventure with a jaw-dropping sense of wonder. No one would accuse “Doc” Smith of being a great prose stylist. But if you’re picking up an audiobook called Vortex Blaster, you’re probably not reading it for the style. Actually, Smith is a much better writer than I’d previously thought. “Storm” Cloud is a seasoned, sometimes cynical protagonist. In the second half of the novel he meets Joan, a telepathic genius, and romance ensues. Joan is resourceful and smart – no young, thin beauty. Each of his aliens have unique characteristics too. The entire novel is leavened with wit and humor to contrapose the serious tone.

You may wonder if this title is part of his famous “Lensman” series. It is definitely a stand-alone novel but it is set in the same universe as the Lensman stories. Vortex Blaster is tangentially related, but can be enjoyed without reading any of the other books in the series.

As narrator for this title, Reed McColm handles the vast array of human and especially alien characters with unerring deftness. He nails the aliens individual eccentricities through voice and accents. He handles the narration for several “Doc” Smith’s audiobooks that are published by Books in Motion. Mr. McColm’s talents are a perfect fit to E.E. “Doc” Smith’s super science space epics.