The Partially Examined Life is a philosophy podcast by “some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living but then thought better of it.” I started following it after SFFaudio Podcast #115 when Anne, from the Anne Is A Man blog, suggested I try it. Since then I’ve been listening to it pretty steadily. Their most recent two podcasts are a great jumping on point for those only casually interested in philosophy as they are both discussions of philosophical novels.
Episode 62 is a discussion of Candide by Voltaire and Episode 63 is a discussion of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men. I’ve read the first book, and now I want to read the second. Indeed, there are very few podcasts that give me the same kind of pleasure, an intellectual pleasure, as recording our own READALONGs. These last two podcasts are such.
Here are the specifics:
Episode 62: Voltaire’s Novel “Candide” |MP3| On Candide: or, Optimism, the novel by Voltaire (1759). Is life good? Popular Enlightenment philosopher Leibniz argued that it’s good by definition. God is perfectly good and all-powerful, so whatever he created must have been as good as it can be; we live in the best of all possible worlds.
Last year somebody* pointed out that a list of “The Top 100 Sci-Fi Books” (as organized by the Sci-Fi Lists website) was almost entirely available in audiobook form!
At the time of his or her compiling 95 of the 100 books were available as audiobooks.
Today, it appears, that list is approaching 99% complete!
I’ve read a good number of the books and audiobooks listed, and while some of them are indeed excellent, I’d have to argue that some are merely ok, and that others are utterly atrocious.
That said, I do think it is interesting that almost all of them are available as audiobooks!
Here’s the list as it stood last year, plus my added notations on the status of the missing five:
01- Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card – 1985
02- Dune – Frank Herbert – 1965
03- Foundation – Isaac Asimov – 1951
04- Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams – 1979
05- 1984 – George Orwell – 1949
06- Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A Heinlein – 1961
07- Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury – 1954
08- 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C Clarke – 1968
09- Starship Troopers – Robert A Heinlein – 1959
10- I, Robot – Isaac Asimov – 1950
11- Neuromancer – William Gibson – 1984
12- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick – 1968
13- Ringworld – Larry Niven – 1970
14- Rendezvous With Rama – Arthur C. Clarke – 1973
15- Hyperion – Dan Simmons – 1989
16- Brave New World – Aldous Huxley – 1932
17- The Time Machine – H.G. Wells – 1895
18- Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke – 1954
19- The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein – 1966
20- The War Of The Worlds – H.G. Wells – 1898
21- The Forever War – Joe Haldeman – 1974
22- The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury – 1950
23- Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – 1969
24- Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson – 1992
25- The Mote In God’s Eye – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – 1975
26- The Left Hand Of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin – 1969
27- Speaker For The Dead – Orson Scott Card – 1986
28- Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton – 1990
29- The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick – 1962
30- The Caves Of Steel – Isaac Asimov – 1954
31- The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester – 1956
32- Gateway – Frederik Pohl – 1977
33- Lord Of Light – Roger Zelazny – 1967
34- Solaris – Stanisław Lem – 1961
35- 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – Jules Verne – 1870
36- A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle – 1962
37- Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut – 1963
38- Contact – Carl Sagan – 1985
39- The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton – 1969
40- The Gods Themselves – Isaac Asimov – 1972
41- A Fire Upon The Deep – Vernor Vinge – 1991
42- Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson – 1999
43- The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham – 1951
44- UBIK – Philip K. Dick – 1969
45- Time Enough For Love – Robert A. Heinlein – 1973
46- A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess – 1962
47- Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson – 1992
48- Flowers For Algernon – Daniel Keyes
49- A Canticle For Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller – 1959
50- The End of Eternity – Isaac Asimov – 1955
51- Battlefield Earth – L. Ron Hubbard – 1982
52- Frankenstein – Mary Shelley – 1818
53- Journey To The Center Of The Earth – Jules Verne – 1864
54- The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin – 1974
55- The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson – 1995
56- The Player Of Games – Iain M. Banks – 1988
57- The Reality Dysfunction – Peter F. Hamilton – 1996
58- Startide Rising – David Brin – 1983
59- The Sirens Of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut – 1959
60- Eon – Greg Bear – 1985
61- Ender’s Shadow – Orson Scott Card – 1999
62- To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip Jose Farmer – 1971
63- A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick – 1977
64- Lucifer’s Hammer – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – 1977
65- The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood – 1985
66- The City And The Stars – Arthur C Clark – 1956
67- The Stainless Steel Rat – Harry Harrison – 1961
68- The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester – 1953
69- The Shadow of the Torturer – Gene Wolfe – 1980
70- Sphere – Michael Crichton – 1987
71- The Door Into Summer – Robert .A Heinlein – 1957
72- The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick – 1964
73- Revelation Space – Alastair Reynolds – 2000
74- Citizen Of The Galaxy – Robert A. Heinlein – 1957
75- Doomsday Book – Connie Willis – 1992
76- Ilium – Dan Simmons – 2003
77- The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells – 1897
78- Have Space-Suit Will Travel – Robert A. Heinlein – 1958
79- The Puppet Masters – Robert A. Heinlein – 1951
80- Out Of The Silent Planet – C.S. Lewis – 1938
81- A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs – 1912
82- The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin – 1971
83- Use Of Weapons – Iain M. Banks – 1990
84- The Chrysalids – John Wyndham – 1955
85- Way Station – Clifford Simak – 1963
86- Flatland – Edwin A. Abbott – 1884
87- Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan – 2002
88- Old Man’s War – John Scalzi – 2005
89- COMING SOON (October 15, 2012) – Roadside Picnic – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky – 1972
90- The Road – Cormac McCarthy – 2006
91- The Postman – David Brin – 1985
92- NEWLY AVAILABLE – Stand On Zanzibar – John Brunner – 1969
93- VALIS – Philip K. Dick – 1981
94- NEWLY AVAILABLEThe Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age – Stanisław Lem – 1974
95- NOT AVAILABLE AS AN AUDIOBOOK – Cities In Flight – James Blish – 1955
96- The Lost World – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – 1912
97- The Many-Colored Land – Julian May – 1981
98- Gray Lensman – E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith – 1940
99- The Uplift War – David Brin – 1987
100- NEWLY AVAILABLE – The Forge Of God – Greg Bear – 1987
In case you were wondering, the list was compiled using the following criteria:
“A statistical survey of sci-fi literary awards, noted critics and popular polls. To qualify a book has to be generally regarded as science fiction by credible sources and/or recognised as having historical significance to the development of the genre. For books that are part of a series (with some notable exceptions) only the first book in the series is listed.”
The “Next 100”, as listed over on Sci-Fi Lists, has a lot of excellent novels and collections in it too, check that out HERE.
The SFFaudio Podcast #177 – Jesse, Tamahome, Jenny, talk about the latest NEW RELEASES and RECENT ARRIVALS in audiobooks and paperbooks.
Talked about on today’s show:
Jenny’s beagle Bailey loves audiobooks, breed vs. brand, “Space Drama”, The Prankster by James Polster (from Brilliance Audio), stranded on Earth, novellas, Luke Daniels is everywhere, Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein, Between Planets by Robert A. Heinlein (Full Cast Audio), Ace Tachyon (aka Abner Senries), Methuselah’s Children by Robert A. Heinlein, immortality, Universe by Robert A. Heinlein, “Future History”, 1941, “the guy with the two heads”, Lazarus Long, The Notebooks Of Lazurus Long, kilted spacemen, Fate of Worlds: Return from the Ringworld by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner (Blackstone Audio), Ringworld, “big dumb object” (and the blog of the same name), space elevator, Energized by Edward M. Lerner, a NASA engineer is the main character!, Grover Gardner, terpkristin, geopolitical intrigue, hard SF, Larry Niven and Gregory Benford “bowl-world?”, Dyson’s sphere, library of congress subject headings, Dewey Decimal Classification, Grover Cleveland, a librarian’s license, are librarians born or trained?, “on the square and on the level”, Trucker Ghost Stories edited by Annie Wilder (Macmillan Audio), Tavia Gilbert, Peter Ganim, 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden (Blackstone Audio), Simon R. Green, Ken Bruen, Daniel H. Wilson, Brian Keene, zombies are taking over, The Walking Dead (comic), Locke & Key, Joe Hill, Stephen King, “gears and robots” or “steamy robots”, Clockwork Angels: The Novel by Kevin J. Anderson, Neil Peart (of Rush), steampunk, steampunk music?, The Steampunk Bible edited by Jeff Vandermeer, Mr Jupitus In The Age Of Steampunk, maker stuff with tophats, is there a good steampunk book to wow Tam?, Murdoch Mysteries, Tesla vs Edison, steampunky, 1950s kitchen appliances, golden age SF, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Sword & Laser, VN by Madeline Ashby, Von Neumann machine, “she stopped being able to not harm humans”, gynoid vs. android, a girlnoid, guynoid vs. gynoid, Angry Robot, Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross |READ OUR REVIEW|, Exhalation by Ted Chiang, non-human main characters, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, post-apocalyptic Hawaii, “a hard entry point”, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime, fantastical, “fantasy noir”, “a noir cannot be series”, “investigative fantasy” or “hardboiled fantasy?”, darker than you think by Jack Williamson (Blackstone Audio), Jim Meskimen, embroiled in hardboiled?, The Humanoids, With Folded Hands, setee vs. seetee, Technomancer (Unspeakable Things: Book 1) by B.V. Larson (Brilliance Audio), space-kilt!, Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein, naked on a frozen planet, Saint City Sinners by Lilith Saintcrow, Tanya Eby, Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, Morning Glories (comic), Midnight (Nightingale Trilogy: #2) by Stephen Leather, Ralph Lister, “supernatural noir”, hardboiled vs. noir, Philip Marlowe is hardboiled (perhaps with noir elements), Kiss Me Deadly by Mickey Spillane, noir as a visual vs. noir as a story, Hamlet, noir stories don’t need detectives (and usually don’t have them), femme fatale, James M. Cain, Body Heat, Chinatown, “it’s chinatown Jake” = things are so fucked up you should walk away, “kitty kat”, “fantasy adventure”, Wake of the Bloody Angel: An Eddie LaCrosse Novel by Alex Bledsoe, pirates!, Stefan Rudnicki, The Hammer And the Blade by Paul S. Kemp, Nick Podehl, Functional Nerds, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, the trouble with fish-gods, a buddy movie (book), dragons, Sky Dragons (Dragonriders of Pern) by Anne McCaffrey and Todd McCaffrey, Emily Durante, Brilliance Audio, Blood of the Emperor (The Annals of Drakis: Book Three) by Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis, PKD!, Counter Clock World by Philip K. Dick, Gather Yourselves Together by Philip K. Dick (mainstream PKD) <-published posthumously, Eye In The Sky by Philip K. Dick, Dan John Miller (Brilliance Audio), The Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick (Brilliance Audio) <-an expansion of The GunProject Plowshare, Mel Foster, Anthony Boucher liked it, The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick (Brilliance Audio), Repent Harlequin Said The Ticktock-man by Harlan Ellison, Dick was a crazy autodidact, didacticism, A World Of Talent and Other Stories (Eloquent Voice), Total Recall (aka We Can Remember It For You Wholesale), public domain Philip K. Dick stories, a strange dedication, Geek’s Guide To The Galaxy, John Joseph Adams, The Reel Stuff edited by Brian Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg, Mimic by Donald A. Wollheim, the Total Recall remake is terrible and stupid, Inception, are “sci-fi” movies are opera for Americans?, Air Raid by John Varley, Loopers, time travel, many new Stanisław Lem audiobooks are up on Audible.com!, Lem READALONG!, Tam is always “Lemming”, Lemistry: A Celebration of the Work of Stanisław Lem, Eric S. Rabkin, Cyberiad, Luke Burrage’s review of Solaris, Noise: A Novel by Darin Bradley, Chris Patton, dystopias are refreshing, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Spider Robinson, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Jesse is completely wrong, does a lack of engagement with the society in The Hunger Games make it not really SF?, science fictiony vs. Science Fiction, 1984, an ever evolving book of rules about idea fiction, Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens, George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, The New York Review Of Books, arguing with books, Jenny’s favourite part of the NYRoB, the New York Review Of Books blog, academic writing vs. literary writing, Vanity Fair and Vanity Fair online, Simon Prebble has captured Chrisopher Hitchen’s voice, Jo Walton, the Booker Prize longlist, Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (historical fiction), history, I, Claudius by Robert Graves, fictionalized history vs. historical fiction, Luke Burrage’s review of Wool by Hugh Howey, Jenny makes friends with all the authors.
The Reapers Are The Angels
By Alden Bell; Read by Tai Sammons
6 CDs – Approx. 6.8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: August 2010
Themes: / Fantasy / Horror / Zombies / Post-Apocalypse / The South /
God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe.
Like those fish all disco-lit in the shallows. That was something, a marvel with no compare that she’s been witness to. It was deep night when she saw it, but the moon was so bright it cast hard shadows everywhere on the island. So bright it was almost brighter than daytime because she could see things clearer, as if the sun were criminal to the truth, as if her eyes were eyes of night. She left the lighthouse and went down to the beach to look at the moon pure and straight, and she stood in the shallows and let her feet sink into the sand as the patter- waves tickled her ankles. And that’s when she saw it, a school of tiny fish, all darting around like marbles in a chalk circle, and they were lit up electric, mostly silver but some gold and pink too. They came and danced around her ankles, and she could feel their little electric fish bodies, and it was like she was standing under the moon and in the moon at the same time. And that was something she hadn’t seen before. A decade and a half, thereabouts, roaming the planet earth, and she’s never seen that before.
And you could say the world has gone to black damnation, and you could say the children of Cain are holding sway over the good and the righteous—but here’s what Temple knows: She knows that whatever hell the world went to, and whatever evil she’s perpetrated her own self, and whatever series of cursed misfortunes brought her down here to this island to be harbored away from the order of mankind, well, all those things are what put her there that night to stand amid the Daylight Moon and the Miracle of the Fish—which she wouldn’t of got to see otherwise.
See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don’t miss out on nothing you’re supposed to witness firsthand.
I actually asked to review this book because I’d seen it described as a “twist on the southern gothic: like Flannery O’Connor with zombies.” As someone who has just begun to appreciate Flannery O’Connor’s writing this hit me like a challenge. However, as I listened to the first chapter, I was struck by the unexpected beauty of the writing and themes that many people wouldn’t attempt, especially in a zombie book. This unexpected beginning was merely the first of the many surprises that Alden Bell had for me in The Reapers Are The Angels.
Temple is a fifteen year old girl who was born ten years after the zombie apocalypse happened. No attempt is made to understand or solve the zombie problem. No government has been formed from the survivors. It is a world with pockets of survivors who set up such systems as seem good to them individually. Chaos rules. Temple has never known a world where zombies were not part of the landscape and this gives us a unique perspective into the apocalyptic novel. It is the world of the survivors where the zombies are a danger but not a shock.
Temple is a fearless drifter, moving from place to place to see wonders or carry out such tasks as she feels she has been given to perform. One such task is when she comes across a severely retarded man in a poignant scene where he is running from zombies with his dead grandmother in his arms. She takes on the task of getting the man, who she calls “Dummy” until she learns his name (Maury), to a safe place where he will be looked after. A wealth of information is conveyed in that name, “Dummy.” This is a world where politically correct doesn’t matter, where truth can sound hard but be kind. Temple is matter-of-fact because that is the only coin that counts in a world where zombies roam wild.
Early in Temple’s travels she encounters the man who becomes her nemesis. Interestingly enough, they understand each other better than any other people on earth, although they are at odds. Both are “God-haunted,” both recognize the truth and resolve it takes to “stay right.” He wants to kill Temple and she understands why, but nevertheless is not going to let him succeed. She is also afraid of something evil within herself which keeps her on the move. In the process of evading her relentless pursuer and caring for her protoge, Temple roams across the South, encountering a wide variety of wanderers and societies. Some are clinging to hopes of returning to normalcy, some accept the new way of the world but refuse to understand it for what it is. Many people encountered are kind and a surprising number of them are also traveling despite the uncertain times. All are shown through Temple’s honest gaze which even can understand and accept the zombies as long as she isn’t being attacked.
This doesn’t mean that Temple is only pragmatic, however. She is weighed down with grief from past actions, which we gradually discover in the course of the novel. She feels joy and wonderment at events such as the fish in the excerpt above and her overriding desire is to see Niagara Falls some day. As she chatters to the largely speechless Maury we see the natural personality of a 15-year-old girl emerge every so often.
I have never read a book with this perspective. I love a good apocalypse story, watching the survivors get over the shock or succumb depending on their natures, watching the alternative governments set up, watching the various ways that everyone attempts to restore the most important aspects of the status quo. This book has no such moments. The world already has “gone to black damnation” but even so there are moments of beauty, meditation on what is right, suspense over what Temple will find in each town, whether she can get Maury to safety, how she will finally elude the determined killer on her trail, and what the evil is that she feels is deep within her. I rarely have listened to a book with such intensity or found myself surprised as often by the lyrical, fluid writing.
Tai Sammons narrates this book with restrained clarity. She has the ability to seamlessly shift into accents from upper class to hardscrabble Southerner while taking on the characters so that the listener tends to forget that there is just one person reading. She does this without altering her voice much either which is a rare skill and one that enhanced the book greatly. In fact, after I found out that the print version does not have quotation marks used for dialogue, I realized that in listening to Sammons’ narration I was enjoying this book in probably the best format for easy understanding. (This experience made me reconsider reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy who is known for both excellent stories and also for the difficulty of reading his prose. I will be seeking out the audio version.)
As with the best science fiction or fantasy, ultimately this story is about much larger issues than hordes of wandering zombies, who have the least presence of any monsters I’ve ever read about. There is blood aplenty, make no mistake, but zombies are far less dangerous that what lies within Temple and her pursuer. The book is not perfect. Some of the plot details are immediately obvious, although they take Temple a long time to figure out, which can be a bit frustrating to the reader. However, overall the book packs its equal share of surprises in plot which more than compensate for the failures.
The Reapers Are The Angels looks at the pursuit of beauty, the pursuit of God, the flight from inner demons, and the fact that none of us can ever see the whole truth at any time. We are too small and truth is woven too large. It isn’t Flannery O’Connor but it doesn’t need to be to accomplish the same thing that O’Connor always wrote about. The Reapers Are The Angels is a book about being human with all the questions and struggles that humans have had throughout time. Highest recommendation.