Review of Vitals By Greg Bear

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Vitals by Greg BearVitals
By Greg Bear; Read by Jeff Woodman
3 Cassettes – 5 hours 16 minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: January 2002
ISBN: 0553714953
THEMES: / Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering / Immortality /

The edge of immortality is the deadliest place of all…Hal Cousins is one of a handful of scientists nearing the most sought after discovery in human history: the key to short-circuiting the aging process. Fueled by a wealth of research, an overdose of self-confidence, and the money of influential patrons to whom he makes outrageous promises, Hal experiments with organisms living in the hot thermal plumes in the ocean depths. But as he journeys beneath the sea, his other world is falling apart.

I like Greg Bear’s work, I really do. Or at least I did before listening to Vitals. I truly savored previous Greg Bear audiobooks, the novels Blood Music and Queen Of Angels and the collection of his short work entitled The Wind From A Burning Woman are all really great listens even though somewhat difficult to follow. Unfortunately Vitals sounds more intriguing in theory than it is in execution. I really cannot think of a single good thing to say about the novel’s construction. It takes the interesting ideas from Blood Music and then ineffectually recycles them into an aimless plodding story. The central conceit, that bacteria are taking over the world in an unpredictable way, is blatantly stolen from Blood Music, Bear’s best work. But Bear doesn’t refine his ideas, instead he adds in a completely bizarre character viewpoint switch in the middle of the story, and later another non-sequitor changes the time period for even more exposition, backing and filling to detrimental effect.

What’s worse, Bear decides to eliminate what few interesting characters there are and finally puts us out of our misery with an unresolved ending. Vitals is like a bad action movie jumping from one scene to another without rhyme or reason. It’s one big train wreck of a novel. Bear has truly fallen and he can’t get up!

This is an abridgement and surely we could argue that a bad abridgement can really hurt an audiobook, but somehow I doubt adding more words to this mess could have helped. Jeff Woodman did his best with what he was given; his narration was very good and clear, with distinct characterization of voices. The cover art falls into the category of “bland non-specific” which so pervades novels these days.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

Fantasy Audiobooks - Nine Princes in Amber by Roger ZelaznyNine Princes in Amber
By Roger Zelazny; Read by the author
4 Cassettes – 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Sunset Productions
Published: 1998
ISBN: 759433069046
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Parallel Worlds / Immortality /

At the beginning of this book, Corwin, an immortal prince of Amber, wakes up in a hospital bed without his memory. He slowly figures things out – who he is, where he is, and most interesting, who’s on his side and who isn’t. As he goes through this process, so does the listener, discovering the world through Corwin’s eyes.

But Corwin is not just human. He’s a member of the royal family of Amber, which is the only true world there is. All other worlds in the universe, including the one in which you and I sit, are but shadows of Amber. One gets to Amber only if one remembers exactly what Amber looks like, and if one has the power to subtly change the environment until it matches the one true world.

The royal family of Amber is dysfunctional, to say the least. Corwin has many brothers, among them Eric, Random, Bleys, and Caine. They all want the throne, and some are willing to kill for it. As Corwin becomes more aware, he too faces that decision – how far is he willing to go to gain the throne himself?

Roger Zelazny narrates this unabridged novel. He has a deep voice that I’ve heard compared to Bogart’s – takes a little getting used to, but the result is personal and satisfying.

The novel is wonderful – vintage Zelazny. I was delighted when I first found this (and the other four Amber novels) on unabridged audio. It was published by Sunset Productions in both unabridged and abridged formats. The abridged version is “enhanced” with sound effects, and features changes to Zelazny’s voice to indicate that the narrator is in a library or underwater, etc… that version is an example of an audiobook that has been overwhelmed with sound effects at the cost of the material. I much prefer this unabridged version, not only because it’s unabridged, but also because it is Zelazny’s reading without distortion.

Americana Publishing now owns the rights to the Sunset Productions, and has re-released the Amber novels, unfortunately only in the abridged format.