Review of Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

Salem’s Lot
By Stephen King; Read by Ron McLarty
11 Cassettes – 17.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0743536959
Themes: / Horror / Vampires / Maine / Small town /

Simon and Schuster recently published this unabridged version of ‘Salem’s Lot, the only appearance of this 1975 Stephen King novel on audio of which I’m aware. This is the second novel published by King, and in my opinion is one of his finest.

Ben Mears, a successful author, returns to the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot to research a book he’s writing. Things get complicated quickly when a man named Barlow moves into town and folks start disappearing. Even more complicated – they start re-appearing. As vampires. As Ben Mears absorbs this fact, he meets the young Mark Petrie, and together they fight Barlow and his growing army.

The characters are the most striking attribute of any Stephen King novel, and this early novel is no exception. The numerous characters breathe with detail, and they all seem like people that I’ve met or could meet today. King lays the small town of Salem’s Lot out for all to see, warts and all, and then commences to destroying it while the reader watches. The actions and fates of the small town characters King has brought to life are where the story lies – not in Barlow himself.

Ron McLarty performs the novel, and does a fine job of it. He handles all the characters with great skill, reading in a clear and often tense manner. As you can probably tell, I really like Salem’s Lot. It’s one of the few novels that I revisit every so often. McLarty treated it well, and I thank him.

Now, I’d love to hear an unabridged audio version of the other two of what I’ve heard called King’s Trinity: one of The Shining, and one of the uncut version of The Stand. I’ll wait patiently…

NOTE: Did anyone catch that recent USA Network TV version of Salem’s Lot? Why the heck did they change so many small details? OK, OK, it’s a different medium, yadda yadda yadda, but wow. They had a perfectly good story to start with. ‘Nuff said. Back to the audio.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Reel Stuff edited by Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg

The Reel Stuff
Edited by Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg
Read by Various
6 Cassettes – 9 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
ISBN: 0886465745
Publisher: dhAudio
Published: 2000 [OUT OF PRINT]
Themes: / Science Fiction / Horror / Computers / Memory / Aliens / Urban Legend / Space Travel / Time Travel /

The Reel Stuff is a collection of stories that have been adapted into films. They are all great stories, and this collection has the added attraction of comparing these stories to the films. dhAudio really did a fabulous job with this one. The stories:

Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson, read by Christopher Graybill
FILM: Johnny Mnemonic (1995)
Johnny Mnemonic was published in 1981, a few years before Gibson’s Hugo and Nebula-award winning Neuromancer hit the scene, illuminating the whole Cyberpunk sub-genre. This story is a clear view of that sub-genre as it has all the elements; human/computer interfaces, plenty of violence, and quick-witted characters. In this story, the title character holds a piece of data in his brain that is wanted by some powerful folks who are willing to do plenty to get it. Christopher Graybill does a great job with it.

Amanda and the Alien by Robert Silverberg, read by Colleen Delany
FILM: Amanda and the Alien (1995 – TV)
This tale, by the great Robert Silverberg, is humourous and sexy. The main character is a ditzy teenage girl named Amanda who takes an alien who can morph into anyone it eats under her wing. Definitely a B-movie kind of story, but purposefully so. Colleen Delany performs well, capturing the Amanda character perfectly.

Mimic by Donald A. Wollheim, read by Terence Aselford
FILM: Mimic (1997)
Mimic is a very short tale that reads almost like a documentary about the peculiar ways in which animals hide from other animals. This is then extrapolated in a very spooky way to humans. Terence Aselford didn’t have a heck of a lot to work with here, but he kept it interesting.

The Forbidden by Clive Barker, read by Vanessa Maroney
FILM: Candyman (1992)
Clive Barker drums up some modern mythology here as a female professor explores urban legend among the lower class in London. The story is effective and chilling in the hands of Vanessa Maroney, who navigates Barker’s weirdness as if it were really happening.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick, read by Terence Aselford
FILM: Total Recall (1990)
Terence Aselford gets another chance in this collection, reading this reality-bender by Philip K. Dick. The main character wants to go to Mars in the worst way, but can’t afford it. The solution? Take a virtual vacation! Have memories implanted so you can “have gone” to Mars. But here, things get complicated when the implantee’s supressed memories surface during the procedure. Dick again manages to leave me wondering what the heck is really real – where exactly is the immovable bedrock? Nothing is sacred in Philip K. Dick’s hands.

Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin, read by Christopher Graybill
FILM: Nightflyers (1987)
Martin here spins a science fiction horror story. Think Psycho meets Lost in Space and maybe you’ll have a feel… a group of people ride on a ship that is controlled by a mystery man who never leaves the cockpit. Christopher Graybill again is impressive in his reading.

Air Raid John Varley, read by Nannette Savard
FILM: Millenium (1989)
Nannette Savard reads a very strange, very affecting story about Earth’s future. In it, humans have evolved just a bit, but the Earth’s biosphere has been destroyed, its people diseased. Varley’s descriptions are vivid and graphic – these people are in a bad way. To keep the species going, they go back in time to retrieve healthy airline passengers, mid-flight, since history shows they are on the verge of fiery death. These passengers become humanity’s hope. Varley is a very affecting writer, and through the main character we experience much. Savard does a great job conveying this to the listener.

Sandkings by George R.R. Martin, read by Richard Rohan
FILM: The Outer Limits: Sandkings (1995)
Simon Kress wants a pet, but something interesting… something out of the ordinary. He finds what he’s looking for when he purchases a group or creatures called sandkings which live in a large terrarium with plenty of sand lining the bottom. They build castles and fight battles. They even worship. And they are endlessly fascinating. Well, they were. Perhaps a little prodding from Kress will end the monotony… This one is my favorite of this excellent collection. Sandkings is original and fascinating, both as a character study of a man with too much comfort and as an exploration of an alien animal species.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Mystic Warrior by Tracy and Laura Hickman

Fantasy Audiobooks - Mystic Warrior by Tracy Hickman and Laura HickmanMystic Warrior
By Tracy and Laura Hickman; Read by Lloyd James
12 CDs – Approx 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786186860
Themes: / Epic fantasy / Dreams / Magic / Dragons /

Thrice upon a time there was a world that was three worlds; one place that was three places; one history that was told in three sagas all at the same time. Thrice upon a time the gods foresaw a time when three worlds would become one; when the children of their creation would face the binding of the worlds.

Thus begins Book One of The Bronze Canticles: Mystic Warrior by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Fans of Hickman’s work should be extremely pleased with this audiobook. Lloyd James does a fantastic job performing, really embracing the epic fantasy and giving it an energy and depth on par with the finest narrators in the business.

This book is the first volume of a fantasy series in which the Human world, the Goblin world, and the Faery world are being slowly drawn together. The main human character is Galen Arvad, who experiences the drawing together of the worlds through dreams, as do couterparts in the other two worlds. Unfortunately, Galen’s world views these dreams as lunacy, and they seek to put such people to death. Galen does his best to avoid this while discovering the reasons behind all the trouble.

There are scenes from all three worlds in the book, each one interesting in its own right. There are swords, dragons, dwarves, and magic wrapped in an interesting story peopled with good characters. Matched with Lloyd James’ first-rate narration, this is a winner for fans of epic fantasy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Live in Concert by Douglas Adams

Science Fiction Audio - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Live in ConcertHitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Live in Concert
By Douglas Adams; Performed live by Douglas Adams
2 cassettes – 2 hours – LIVE PERFORMANCE, UNABRIDGED EXCERPTS
Publisher: Dove Audio
Published: 1996
ISBN: 0787108960
Themes: / Science Fiction / Humor / Time Travel / Robots / Artificial Intelligence / Alien Invasion /

In 1995, at the Alameida Theatre in London, Douglas Adams gave a live performance, reading several sections from the first three novels of the inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s Trilogy. The performance was recorded, and the result is one of the most oft-played in my collection. His reading is absolutely hilarious. His energy is high throughout the performance, and his comic timing impeccable.

Amongst the episode segments Adams reads are “Marvin and the Frogstar Battle Robot”, “Arthur and the Irrational Sofa”, and “Agrajag and the Cathedral of Hate.”

Hitchhiker’s Guide remains the best science fiction comedy out there. How to describe it? Well, this fellow named Arthur Dent wakes up one day to discover that someone is trying to knock down his home to make room for a bypass. While dealing with that, he discovers that his good friend Ford Prefect is not actually from Earth, but from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelguese. Further, the Earth itself is about to be destroyed by the Vogon Destructor Fleet to make room for an interstellar bypass. They get off-planet and the adventures commence aboard the Heart of Gold, which is run by an Infinite Improbability Drive, which… well, you just have to experience it.

Unabridged audio versions exist of all the Hitchhiker’s novels, but my favorite ways to enjoy this story is the original BBC Radio dramas and this live performance. A person who enjoys Hitchhiker’s already should very much enjoy this, and it would also offer a good introduction to someone who is unfamiliar with the story.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Minority Report and Other Stories By Philip K. Dick

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Minority Report by Philip K. DickThe Minority Report and Other Stories
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Keir Dullea
4 Cassettes – 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2001
ISBN: 0694523348
Themes: Science Fiction / Future Knowledge / Time Travel / Paranoia / Robots / Artificial Intelligence / Alien Invasion /

This collection of five Philip K. Dick tales includes stories that will make you laugh, cringe in fear, and most of all… think. Stories included:

The Minority Report
The creator and head of Pre-crime, John Anderton, runs a special branch of the police that uses precognition to lock-up those who plan to commit felonies. When he suddenly finds that his own name is on the list of future-murderers to be rounded up he thinks it’s a conspiracy to dismantle the system. After all, why would he, a respected crime fighter, kill a man he’s never met? His only chance is to escape, find out who this man he’s supposed to kill is. First published in the pulp magazine “Fantastic Universe” in January 1956, “The Minority Report” is an intriguing look at the philosophical consequences of thinking about the future and free will. If we can see into the future then the future is like a book in which we are all characters, and which we have no ability to chose to do anything. But if we can find out what a person’s future behavior is – and can prevent it – how reliable was the view of that future? Aren’t the two mutually exclusive? Isn’t future knowledge an irresolvable paradox? Like nearly every Dick tale, this one is extremely engaging. Unlike the movie adaptation, our hero isn’t a dashing Tom Cruise type, instead as the first line of the story illustrates: “The first thought Anderton had when he saw the young man was ‘I’m getting bald. Bald and fat and old.” Anderton is a protagonist lacking self-confidence. That weakness and the mounting paranoia enhance the tale all the more.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale
Quail is just a working schlub, too poor to afford a trip to Mars, a place he’s always dreamed about going. His frustration leads him to buy a memory implant, one that will give him an ersatz visit to the red planet, and it’s said to be one so real that if he can find proof that he didn’t actually go, he can get his money back! But when something goes wrong during the procedure Quail starts to remember the truth – he’s actually been to Mars already! “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” was the basis of the feature film Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and for the first three-quarters of the story, the plots are very similar. But fear not! As is becoming the rule in Hollywood, the ending is different. And I happen to think Dick’s version is even better. Originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine’s April 1966 issue, this one is one you definitely won’t forget.

Paycheck
Recently adapted into an action film directed by John Woo and starring Ben Affleck, “Paycheck” is the tale of an engineer who works under a strange contract. As a condition of his employment he must have his memories of his work wiped. After doing the job, two years have passed, and of course he has no memory of the previous two years – in lieu of wages he’s apparently traded in a large cash payment for a bag of seemingly worthless and unrelated objects. When the security police of the totalitarian state he lives in arrests him and demands to know what he’s been working on for the past two years he suddenly discovers that the “worthless objects” are helping him escape! Can this collection of junk actually unlock the secret of his recent past – and insure that he has a future? First published in “Imagination” Magazine’s June 1953 issue, “Paycheck” is as slippery and mysterious as it is slick written and inevitable – Dick is the ultimate idea man.

Second Variety
Under a flag of truce, the UN officer receives an offer of parlay from a lone Russian Soldier. He’s to travel alone to a rendezvous behind enemy lines to discuss a matter of ‘mutual interest’. “Second Variety” is the basis of the obscure SF film Screamers, starring Peter Weller. This novella originally appeared in Space Science Fiction magazine’s May 1953 issue and offers a glimpse at horrifically scarred future Earth where a nuclear winter and two opposing armies are confronted by an even more dangerous weapon than ICBMs. Well written and thoughtful, another masterpiece of paranoia and philosophy. Dick can do no wrong!

The Eyes Have It
This short storylet is a rare humour piece that posits the dire consequences literalism and paranoia. Whimsical and truly laugh-out-loud funny it was first published in “Science Fiction Stories 1” in 1953.

Keir Dullea, the reader of all these stories is probably best known as astronaut Dave Bowman in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In recent years Dullea has gained a name for himself as an audiobook narrator, and this collection can only add to that fame. Dullea does accents, and voice changes, but never gets in the way of the wonderful ideas. Well done.

Harper Audio did an excellent job with this collection. Recording quality is top notch and they’ve even accented the reading with little musical cues to let you know when a story has ended or the tape is ready to be flipped. Other than the uninteresting cover art and the flimsy packaging, which is unfortunately, all too standard these days, my only complaint was that they didn’t do more of Philip K. Dick’s stories. I wan’t more! More!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of I, Robot By Isaac Asimov

Science Fiction Audiobooks - I, Robot by Isaac AsimovI, Robot
By Isaac Asimov; Read by Scott Brick
7 CDs – Approx. 8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0739312707
Themes: / Science Fiction / Robots / Mystery /

The debate rages on. Most don’t know how much the film I, Robot (to be released in July) resembles Isaac Asimov’s original work. A badge-toting Will Smith gracing the cover of this audiobook suggests that the resemblence will be tenuous at best… many say that it doesn’t matter. Whatever your opinion, the result for audiobook listeners is an excellent unabridged version of some classic SF.

I, Robot is a collection of 9 short stories, connected by an ongoing discussion between a reporter and 75 year-old Susan Calvin, robo-psychologist. She is talking to the reporter about the history of robots, or the history of U.S. Robot and Mechanical Men, Inc, the company which produces the world’s robots, and for which she works. The stories she relates to the reporter are:

“Robbie”
A small girl enjoys the family robot – a bit too much, according to her mother, who arranges its disappearance.

“Runaround”
On a manned expedition to Mercury, a robot named Speedy doesn’t return from an important mission. Unfortunately, Speedy’s mission is vital to the survival of the human crew.

“Reason”
A robot believes the unbelievable – is it possible?

“Catch That Rabbit”
A robot used for asteroid mining goes wrong, and U.S. Robots representative Gregory Powell is sent to make it right.

“Liar!”
Could be subtitled: The Mystery of the Mind-reading Robot.

“Little Lost Robot”
Susan Calvin is called in to solve a problem with a collection of robots – which one is lying and why?

“Escape!”
A supercomputer called “The Brain” is asked a question, and it answers.

“Evidence”
A prominent politician is accused of being a robot.

“The Evitable Conflict”
The Machines take an even greater role in the affairs of humanity.

The behavior of all of Asimov’s robots are governed by his famous Three Laws of Robotics (see them below), and the stories themselves are all about the effects of robots on humanity on both the personal and societal levels. These stories are excellent, intelligent, classic science fiction – some of the finest work by one of the finest science fiction writers ever – Isaac Asimov.

Scott Brick, a narrator I always look forward to hearing, performs. He is engaging throughout and reads as if he truly enjoyed doing it. He’s one of the best.

And here, as promised, are the Three Laws:
The Three Laws of Robotics
1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2) A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

NOTE: For more unabridged Asimov, check out Books on Tape, where Scott Brick has narrated more of his titles. Asimov’s robot novels, the first two of which are The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun have not been produced as audiobooks, as far as I know. A glaring omission! The BBC has produced an audio drama of The Caves of Steel, however.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson