Review of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Time Machine by H.G. WellsThe Time Machine
By H.G. Wells; Read by James Spencer
MP3, OGG or AAC files download – 3 hours, 2 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: TelltaleWeekly.org
Published: 2004
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Math Fiction /

I felt assured that the Time Machine was only to be recovered by boldly penetrating these underground mysteries. Yet I could not face the mystery. If only I had had a companion it would have been different.

Sounds suspiciously like the plot of every Doctor Who episode doesn’t it? But The Time Machine isn’t just about exciting time-travel adventures, it’s also about the class struggle in Great Britain in the late 19th century, the widening gap between rich and poor, what Humans have control over and what they don’t. Doctor Who has been known to tackle these ideas too, one of it’s serials even has H.G. Wells as a character, but the fact that The Time Machine did it first, and so well, speaks volumes.

Scientifically explained SF stories of time travel take their cue for explanation, when they do it at all, from this novel. Prior to its publication stories of travel in time went unexplained, the Connecticut Yankee, of Mark Twain’s comedic time-travel novel got a knock on his head that sent him back to Middle Ages England – and that was explanation enough in its way. But The Time Machine isn’t played for comedy, Wells’ futures are allegories for his worries about capitalism and communism, for his notation about gender blurring in the industrial age and his realization that not only are all men mortal, but so in fact is Mankind itself!

In just three hours Wells posits two futures: 1. A relative near term future humanity which has bifurcated into two distinct species (Eloi and Morlock) – they stand as the evitable result of aristocrat and proletariat class calcification present in the political theory at the time of it’s writing. 2. A vision of a far future Earth, showing the inevitable and unavoidable physical reality of the universe. Were this not a public domain text, and were not the plot so familiar to us we’d have to think ourselves blessed by this excellent reading. As it is, and as cheap as it is this classic of science fiction can be judged only by it’s audiobook. Thankfully the reading keeps pace with the text.

Sound quality is excellent, but the reader, James Spenser, doesn’t have much to do in the way of voices. He does however a marvelous job engendering anticipation, fear, disgust and sympathy through pacing. Spencer’s lack of an English accent for this Englishman’s tale doesn’t really matter, only one character in the novel is named, she couldn’t sensibly be called English and she doesn’t even have a speaking part. Much of the difficulty in this story comes from the stilted way it is rendered. Told in first person by an unnamed witness to the recounting of the main events, we are regaled second hand with the time traveler’s adventures in time. I can charitably call it “quaint.” Arthur C. Clarke later took up this kind of storytelling with his “Tales Of The White Heart” series of short stories, likely I think in homage to Wells. I’ve heard several audiobook renditions of The Time Machine now, of the non British reader’s Spencer’s is “the definitive edition.” And at just $5.00 it’s a deal.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Dark Worlds Of H.P. Lovecraft Volume 1: The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu by H.P Lovecraft

Horror Audiobooks - The Dunwich Horror and The Call of the CthulhuThe Dark Worlds Of H.P. Lovecraft Volume 1: The Dunwich Horror and The Call Of Cthulhu
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by Wayne June
3 CDs – Approx 3.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Realms
Published: 2005
Themes: / Fantasy / Horror / Gods / Evil / Mathematics / Dreams /

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

When Fantasy is inspired by science it can be especially powerful. H.P. Lovecraft built his mythos using the scientific concepts of his day. There could have been sensible talk of ‘other dimensions’ before the experiments surrounding the nature of light. And much of the alienness of his creations explicitly depend on such concepts in theoretical physics as non-euclidian geometry. With these concepts being in the air Lovecraft set out to plant a seed of churning fear with his fiction – turning the many unknowns science was uncovering into unspeakable horrors that lurk within the imagination. Combine this with Lovecraft’s dense and brooding prose and you’ve got something that no modern author could get away with. No modern author could, Lovecraft does. Audio Realms is starting to release the titles that make any classic fantasy fan salivate. Here in this terrific audiobook are two tales of horror that we declare to be SFFaudio Essential:

The Dunwich Horror is the tale of a backwater New England town with a devolving populace and one particularly strange family’s chronicle. It starts with two small things. The cataloguing of some mouldering old books and a disturbing birth of a new resident. These events are the begining of a new danger for the hamlet of Dunwich and possibly the Earth entire. What’s interesting here, as with so many early horror tales, is that Lovecraft creates evil not by revealing action directly but by atmosphere and appeal to our primitive revulsion reflex. Lovecraftian evil is not something created by moral degeneracy (though he does talk of that), but rather by sheer alieness, an atmosphere of ignorance and most of all a lurking dread.
I’m not sure it would make much sense to be an apologist for the Elder Gods who’d consume us without a thought – but what exactly makes them so evil? Since everyone who finds out has their sanity blasted we’re not likely to find out very soon.

The Call Of Cthulhu is a reconstructed tale. A nephew finds in the his recently deceased uncle’s study some strange documents. A young nephew discovers in his recently deceased uncle’s study some correspondences and notes, along with a mysterious and disturbing statue. It seems that several mysteriously similar cults worship of a being, who they call Cthulhu. A sea voyage eventually yielded a brush with an unearthly force. I won’t reveal any more of the plot, but I will say this, I think Philip K. Dick may have been inspired by this story for his novel Galactic Pot Healer. This creepy tale is perhaps the definitive Lovecraftian work. They even named a great role playing game after it. One suggestion, this one is pretty scary, you may want to wear brown pants while listening.

Narrator Wayne June’s voice will give you the absolute lurking creeps. His deep raspy voice is also used to good effect for all the narration, when he is infrequently called upon to do the voices of the damned he distinguishes between them well. This is the best Lovecraft adaptation to audio I’ve heard and more frightening than hell. For full effect a listener should turn down the lights, put on a good set of headphones, sit in a lonesome room with a view of the sea and pray that Lovecraft was just making all this stuff up.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov

Science Fiction and Fantasy Audio

Science Fiction Audiobook - Foundation and Empire by Isaac AsimovFoundation and Empire
By Isaac Asimov; Read by Scott Brick
8 CD’s, 10 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books on Tape
Published: 2005 (Re-issued with new narrator)
ISBN: None on package
Themes: / Science Fiction / Psychohistory / Galactic Empire / Mental Powers /

This classic novel contains two parts. The first is The General and is much like Foundation in tone and subject matter. Galactic Empire is dying, and the Foundation grows in strength. The story is about Bel Riose, a General in the Empire, and the Empire’s last gasp against the Foundation.

But then Asimov takes it up a notch. “The Mule” is the second part of the book, and is one of Asimov’s finest works. The Foundation is unexpectedly confronted with an enigma who calls himself The Mule. Hari Seldon could not have considered such an anomaly in his equations, and when historical events are altered by The Mule’s mental ability to influence people, the Foundation responds.

And what more can I say about Scott Brick? I really enjoy him, and look forward to his narrations. This book was written more than fifty years ago, and it holds up as much more than a historical curiosity. Brick does a fine job with it.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Foundation by Isaac AsimovFoundation
By Isaac Asimov; Read by Scott Brick
7 CD’s, 9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books on Tape
Published: 2005 (Re-issued with new narrator)
ISBN: 1415917760
Themes: / Science Fiction / Psychohistory / Galactic Empire / Energy / Science /

I could write this review in one sentence: A first-rate science fiction classic performed by a top-notch narrator. Whew! I’m exhausted. I better relax with another audiobook…

But first, a few more comments. Foundation is one of Isaac Asimov’s earliest works. One of the joys of reading this novel is recognizing it as an influence on so many other works in science fiction. Since Foundation was published, countless empires have risen and fallen in the pages of science fiction novels and on flickering movie screens. Most obviously, the latest Star Wars movie includes a visit to Coruscant, a planet that is one huge city, just like Asimov’s Trantor.

Like I, Robot, another of Asimov’s best known books, this is not a novel, but a collection of stories. The first (Book 1) is called “The Psychohistorians”, which follows Gaal Dornick as he visits the planet Trantor for the first time. Trantor is a planet completely covered in city – it serves as the capital of the Galactic Empire. Dornick visits Hari Seldon, who is under persecution for predicting the fall of the empire using psychohistory, a mathematical method for predicting probable futures for large numbers of people. The story concludes with the establishment of the Foundation, where a group of scientists will be charged with collecting all human knowledge into a great Encyclopedia.

Book Two is “The Encyclopedists”. It is 30 years after the first story, and it is here that the reader first encounters Salvor Hardin, a political rival of the mayor of Terminus, the name of the planet where the Foundation resides. The story is of a political struggle between two factions, with Hardin winning the day in grand fashion as a holographic Hari Seldon makes his first appearance to tell folks what’s really going on here.

Book Three, “The Mayors”, again stars Salvor Hardin, much later in his career. He is now being challenged as he challenged others in the previous story. Hardin has discovered that the only thing he’s got that surrounding systems don’t have is knowledge of atomics (a knowledge that has been lost at the edge of the empire). So, to keep from being attacked, he creates a sort of religion out of atomic science, trains “priests” to deal with it, and sends these priests out to threatening worlds to keep them at bay. Works great, but now there’s a challenge.

“The Traders” is Book 4, again taking place years after the previous story. Hardin is long gone, and the Foundation now is home to a sub-class called Traders, who are largely independent, but still loyal to the Foundation…

…who evolve into “The Merchant Princes”, the subject of Book 5, the longest installment. The traders have grown rich, and there’s a serious threat to the Foundation. Questions about the further validity of the “religion” are questioned, toss in some espionage, and the struggle is on.

Scott Brick does an amazing job with Asimov’s work. This first book was published in 1951, so Brick has to say things like “Great leaping galaxies!” while keeping a straight face. Apart from these occasional exclamations, the book works extremely well here in 2005. Asimov deserves his place amongst the Grand Masters of the genre, and Scott Brick’s performance adds a worthy dimension to the classic. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the rest of the trilogy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Asimov Science Fiction Tales

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Science Fiction Tales by Isaac AsimovAsimov Science Fiction Tales
By Isaac Asimov; Read by Isaac Asimov
2 Cassettes – 117 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: 1985 – Out Of Print
ISBN: 0807234184
Themes: / Science Fiction / Poetry / Storytelling / Artificial Intelligence / Robots / Mathematics / Parallel Worlds /

Written and read by Isaac Asimov, Asimov Science Fiction Tales is a collection of four short stories and one poem, all from Asimov’s golden era, the 1950s. Though cover art is non-existent, the audiobook comes packaged in a heavy duty vinyl case that is extremely durable. This two cassette production from Listening Library is a repackaged selection of tales written and read by Asimov from the 1975 collection entitled Science Fiction Favorties: Isaac Asimov (ISBN 0807229288), which includes at least five other stories that are not included here.

Listening to Asimov Science Fiction Tales is like spending some quality time with the man himself. Asimov’s reading is informal. He introduces and comments on each of the tales both before and after the reading, placing them in context and revealing their origins. His comments are insightful and sometimes quite humourous. The stories themselves are some of his best, featuring familiar Asimov themes, some serious, others funny, all great listening.

Stories Included:
Introduction – Asimov extemperaneously expounds on the wonderfulness of good old fashioned reading.

I Just Make Them Up, See – A infamous Asimov limerick, this one attempts to answer the question “Where do you get the ideas for your stories?” It’s a silly poem and but it left me smiling.

Someday – The first of two stories in this collection that deals with “lost arts”. In a society that has forgotten the written word, two young boys upgrade an antique automated audiobook machine called a “bard” – giving it a new vocabulary so that it can tell modern stories. This is one of Asimov’s most perfectly constructed stories, a real winner.

The Feeling of Power – A far future society that has become completely dependent upon computers rediscovers the lost art of doing math by hand. Very clever and well concieved, this story has more to say about our own society than it did about the time in which it was written.

Satisfaction Guaranteed – Housewife Claire Belmont is startled to find her husband’s most recent aquistion, a human looking robot named “Tony”, is the latest gimmick in the ceaseless battle to keep up with the Joneses.

Living Space – The discovery of easy access to parallel universe Earths, ones where life never evolved, means that the ever expanding human population of the future needn’t worry about running out of living space. In fact, every family can have a whole planet to themselves! But some unforseen consequences of this discovery have got a few of the new homeowners worried. This is one of the best executed science fiction short stories ever written. Its premise entails a non-obvious problem that becomes clear only near the end of the tale. Highly recommended.