Review of Gravity By Tess Gerritsen

Gravity by Tess GerritsenGravity
By Tess Gerritsen; Read by Campbell Scott
4 Cassettes – 4.5 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 0671046187
Themes: / Science Fiction / Disease / Disaster / Biology / Scientist / Medical /

Emma Watson, a brilliant research physician, has been training for the mission of a lifetime: to study living beings in space. Jack McCallum, Emma’s estranged husband, has shared her dream of space travel, but a medical condition has grounded and embittered him. He must watch from the sidelines as his wife prepares for her first mission to the International Space Station. Once aboard the space station, however, things start to go terribly wrong. A culture of single-celled organisms known as Archaeons, gathered from the deep sea, is to be monitored in the microgravity of space. The true and lethal nature of this experiment has not been revealed to NASA. In space, the cells rapidly multiply and soon begin to infect the crew-with agonizing and deadly results

If I had to write a review of this novel in one sentence it would read: “Gravity is like Blood Music for people who’ve never heard of Greg Bear.” Gravity is described by the publisher as “A Novel Of Medical Suspense”, which to me sounds like a crooked way of saying “science fiction for people who don’t like to get caught reading science fiction.” I used to have contempt for the writers of such deceptive doublespeak, but these days I’m more likely to save my contempt for the people who in actuality demand their literature be named in such disingenuous ways. The publishers really aren’t to blame. If they label it as science fiction it won’t get reviewed in the mainstream media – and it won’t be purchased by the fickle public who’d willfully pass up a book with a “science fiction” label in favor of a “medical thriller” or “techno thriller” label. Can someone please explain to me what is so wrong about being caught reading a novel with the words “science fiction” on the spine? I’ve heard people say they won’t buy books because the cover looked too “science-fictiony”. I suggest to you that to not like science fiction is to shut one’s self off from ideas. And though many people claim not to like science fiction, I think if they’d look critically at what they are reading they’d find themselves reading it – just under another name. Be honest with yourself, admit it, you do like it, that is all I ask.

But I stray from the path. Gravity reads a bit like Robin Cook’s Coma, but the major theme has more in common with Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain than it does with hospital politics. The abridgement here is successful and Tess Gerritsen’s descriptions are clear but a bit dumbed-down. As an M.D. she should be fully capable of ratcheting up the science-speak, but for one reason or another chose not to. Despite this, I have few complaints. This is a good time passer. The story has an interesting setting and overall I was left with a satisfactory feeling. That said, I felt no pressing need to track down more of Gerritsen’s ‘Novels Of Medical Suspense.’

A few other problems: Simon & Schuster Audio has not spaced the tapes properly. Each side is of unequal length requiring much fast-forwarding. They also declined to mention when a side is ending, so the reading of a sentence ends as if it were simply a thoughtful pause and then tape plays on for many minutes. This is bad planning – for such a big company there are no good excuses.

Reader Campbell Scott’s precise intonation and clinical reading matches the medical perspective taken by Gerritsen in Gravity. Scott is no cuddly-dear of a voice, nor is he a cuddly-dear of a film actor and yet I find myself always pleased to spend some time with him now and again – he always manages to somehow draw me in even though his stiff demeanor makes me want to shy away.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Protector By Larry Niven

Science Fiction Audiobook - Protector by Larry NivenProtector
By Larry Niven; read by Mark Sherman
5 cassettes – 7.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2003
ISBN: 0786123907
Themes: / Science Fiction / Aliens / Interplanetary Travel / Solar-System Civilization / Asteroid Belt / Mars / Evolution / Genetics / Biology / Ballistic Physics /

Phssthpok the Pak had been traveling for most of his thirty-two thousand years. His mission was to save, develop, and protect the group of Pak breeders sent out into space some two and a half million years before. Brennan was a Belter, the product of a fiercely independent, somewhat anarchic society living in, on, and around an outer asteroid belt. The Belters were rebels, one and all, and Brennan was a smuggler. The Belt worlds had been tracking the Pak ship for days, and Brennan figured to meet that ship first. He was never seen again, at least not by those alive at the time.

Humanity has become an interplanetary species; Luna, Mars, Mercury, the Asteroid Belt and the gas giants of Sol are the playground of mankind. But it wasn’t meant to be that way… an alien race from near the galactic core has set its sights on Earth and the cargo it brings will bear some really strange fruit.

Protector is absolutely bursting with awesome SF ideas, and the twists on them, everything from a precursor to Richard Dawkin’s “Selfish Gene Theory”, to realistic spaceship ballistics and sexual politics. Niven himself has been a giant in the SF field since the early 1970s, of the many living authors who still haven’t been bestowed with the honorific “Grand Master,” Niven is the most deserving. Protector was first published in 1973, and is a part of Niven’s ongoing “Known Space” series, one of the foremost continuing visions of the future by an SF author. Like Robert A. Heinlein’s Future History series, the Known Space novels and stories follow the expansion of humans into the galaxy. And Protector is perhaps the best of the Known Space novels, it offers some of the hardest of the Hard SF ever written, something Larry Niven has a particular talent for, and it’s a great story, both unpredictable and fun! But I can’t stress enough just how good this novel is, the plot is unpredictable but relentlessly logical and enthralling at the same time, even better this novel like Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend, has a deep psychological and philosophical impact on the reader, and it also has a similar twist ending. It’s simply fantastic!

Reader Mark Sherman appears to have prepared well for what really could have been a very difficult reading. Larry Niven gave the alien names a real alien sound – I had no idea how to pronounce names like “Phssthpok”, but Mark Sherman does a great job in putting voice to it and numerous other unpronounceable words. Blackstone Audiobooks’s production is super smooth, sound quality is terrific, the cassettes come packaged in the awesome library style clamshell case and the original cover art is simply amazing to behold. For those who prefer other formats, Blackstone has also released Protector in two other media types, a 6 CD set or a single MP3-CD. Whatever format you choose you must choose one as this production of Larry Niven’s Protector is nigh unto perfect.

Posted by Jesse Willis