Review of Timescape By Gregory Benford

Science Fiction Audiobook - Timescape by Gregory BenfordTimescape
By Gregory Benford; Read by Simon Prebble and Peter Bradbury
11 Cassettes – 15.75 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books LLC
Published: 2001
ISBN: 0788763180
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Time Travel / Alternate History / Quantum Physics / Science / Ecology / Philosophy / Astronomy / Britain / USA /

Winner of both the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Awards for best science fiction novel, Timescape is an enduring classic that examines the ways that science interacts with everyday life to create the many strange worlds in which we live. In a future wracked by environmental catastrophe and social instability, physicist John Renfrew devises a longshot plan to use tachyons–strange, time-traveling particles–to send a warning to the past. In 1962, Gordon Bernstein, a California researcher, gets Renfrew’s message as a strange pattern of interference in an experiment he’s conducting. As the two men struggle to overcome both the limitations of scientific knowledge and the politics of scientific research, a larger question looms: can a new future arise from the paradox of a forewarned past? With multiple plot lines and diverse characters, Timescape offers something for all lovers of fascinating science and great fiction. Simon Prebble and Peter Bradbury combine for a narration that skillfully uncovers the mysteries beneath our understanding of the universe.

Timescape is a deep novel that explores characters, causal paradoxes, politics, history and physics over time all with equal skill. And despite the serious nature of the narrative there are even a few laughs in there! This isn’t just science fiction it is scientist fiction, that is it is fiction that shows how scientific experimentation in the modern university setting works. Benford, is himself a scientist and he doesnt dumb down the book for us amateurs. I was very surprised that I hadn’t heard how good this novel was previously. I count myself as a fairly knowledgeable fan of science fiction and yet somehow the certain fame of this novel slipped under my radar. I was pleased and surprised as Timescape approaches greatness in it’s chosen domain.

Appropriately Simon Prebble, with his English accent, reads the 1990s chapters of the novel, which are primarily set in England, while Peter Bradbury with his American accent reads the 1960s chapters, set mostly in California. This is the kind of book that was a natural for dual narration. Bradbury and Prebble are both excellent, pronouncing nearly every technical term correctly, in this hard science heavy novel that is no small feat! Recorded Books’ original cover art for this audiobook is even more evocative than the paperback and hardcover editions. Nice work RB! But it’s not all praise. First is an attribution mistake on the front cover of the audiobook, the copy reads “narrated by Simon Prebble and Peter Bradley” (it should read “Bradbury” not “Bradley”). There was also a problem plaguing my copy of Recorded Books cassette audiobooks – the sound level. It may have been only a problem with my copy, but in order to hear this audiobook I had to crank up the stereo to its maximum output level. Recorded Books does however offer to replace defective cassettes, and if the recording level were any lower I’d have to seriously consider taking them up on it. Likely this wouldnt be a factor at all with the CD version but there isn’t a CD version available at this time.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Martian Time-Slip By Philip K. Dick

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. DickMartian Time-Slip
By Philip K. Dick; Read by Tom Parker
6 Cassettes – 9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
ISBN: 0786113529
Date Published: 1998
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mars / Politics / Time-travel / Mental Illness / Aliens / Philosophy /

On the arid colony of Mars the only thing more precious than water may be a ten-year-old schizophrenic boy named Manfred Steiner. For although the UN has slated “anomalous” children for deportation and destruction, other people–especially Supreme Goodmember Arnie Kott of the Water Workers’ Union -suspect that Manfred’s disorder may be a window into the future.

While the Mars of our reality is a fascinating planet in its own right, the Mars of fiction is far more accessible, and nearly as alien! Ray Bradbury’s Mars was a walk through the pastoral and allegorical mind of Bradbury’s youth. Edgar Rice Burrough’s Mars, a fantasyland where many buckles were swashed and princesses were saved. But Philip K. Dick’s Mars is the strangest of them all, a place where everyday reality is malleable and where political corruption continues as it does on Earth. Martian Time-Slip, as read exceedingly well by Tom Parker, is a poignant and utterly fascinating journey both across the newly colonized Martian landscape and through the lives of its varied central characters. A journey not to be missed, I have no doubt that eventually the real colonists on the real Mars will be reading Philip K. Dick’s Martian Time-Slip – and a few of them may even be listening to Parker’s excellent performance of this amazing novel.

More and more it seems you can count on Blackstone Audio to pick a great book, match it with an appropriate narrator and follow through with high production values. Martian Time-Slip just adds to this reputation. It comes in a library style clamshell binding with a cool cover featuring the original art from the paperback release. And to top it all off this superb production includes every single word in the book, including the teaser back cover. There is little else to say except: Martian Time-Slip, highly recommended!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Alien Voices: The Invisible Man

Science Fiction Audio Drama - Alien Voices The Invisible ManAlien Voices: The Invisible Man
By H.G. Wells; Performed by John de Lancie, Leonard Nimoy and a full cast
2 Cassettes or 2 CDs – Approx. 114 minutes [UNABRIDGED DRAMATIZATION]
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: 1998
ISBN: 067158104X (Cassette); 0671581058 (CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Invisibility / Fantasy / Star Trek / Classic / Philosophy /

One of Science Fiction’s seminal works is The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. It’s premise is intriguing. What would it be like to be hidden from view? At first, there would be the advantage of watching others without being noticed. But, what would you do when the novelty wore off and the invisibility didn’t? Would you become a prisoner of your own freedom? Or perhaps a madman bent on enslaving others?The novel was written in 1897 when the world believed that science could cure all ills, but as we will glean from the story of The Invisible Man, the achievements of the human mind are worthless without a human soul to guide them. Come with us now, as Alien Voices explores the tragic life of a young scientist who seemed to be on the threshold of a brilliant future and something quite unexpected happens.

This loose adaptation of H.G. WellsThe Invisible Man is quite…fascinating. It has been adapted in the style of an old time radio drama, the majority of the plot is there, but it has been compressed and massaged to fit the actors and sensibilities of the Alien Voices team. Alien Voices formed in 1996 to create multi-media works of science fiction and fantasy, drawing upon the copyright expired classics and the languishing resources of the Star Trek alumni. Its three founding members are actor/director Leonard Nimoy, actor/director/writer John de Lancie, and writer/producer Nat Segaloff. de Lancie and Nimoy headline the dramas, in this case playing the title character and his university professor respectively. The rest of the cast is rounded out by: Susan Bay, Richard Doyle, Robert Ellenstein, Jerry Hardin, Marnie Mosiman, Kate Mulgrew, Ethan Phillips, Dwight Schultz and Nana Visitor.

This production is very good, the sound effects, voice talent and music are all very well done. The script is quite different from the original novel, but those modifications are very well done. The packaging is merely adequate, a traditional cd jewel case, a cardboard box and some quickie photoshop art. But most conspicuous by its absence is a cast and character list. The cast is named at the end of the program, but we are never told which actor is playing which character. It is easy to tell Ethan Phillips and Nana Visitor, but its hard to identify many of the others. Of the other actors the only one who sounded at all familiar was one who sounded like Mark Twain. A little investigation, and I determined that it was likely Jerry Hardin who played Twain in Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s two part episode Time’s Arrow!

The story itself has been modified and compressed, most of the original Wells’ version of The Invisible Man remains in this production. H.G. Wells is best remembered for The War Of The Worlds, which itself was adapted very early on by Mercury Theater and Orson Welles. That adaptation and a later film version had a  lasting impact upon popular culture, making the idea of “alien invasion” almost synonymous science fiction, at least to the majority who don’t read it. But science fiction isn’t always about the future, or about space travel, or aliens invading the Earth. Sometimes it is subtler, and in the case of The Invisible Man, it proves itself deeply rooted in philosophy.

Those who examine science fiction closely will see a profound connection between science and philosophy. In the case of The Invisible Man, Wells started to explore what would be necessary for invisibility to work, (for it to be rooted in science and not merely magic), AND to explore the consequences of invisibility actually working. But Wells himself was drawing upon resources of an even earlier time. In the philosopher Plato’s famous book The Republic (itself a work of proto-science fiction), we are introduced to Gyges, a shepherd who finds a magic ring which can turn him invisible. Gyges soon discovers that he can act unjustly without anyone knowing. For Plato this was a story to make us think about what being just and injust really is. For Wells and Alien Voices it is more about telling a good story. But a little philosophy does manage to sneak into the plot; For the Invisible Man, invisibility is power, and possessing that power he can do a great many things, like get revenge. But revenge is hindered by a few stumbling blocks, first he has to go out naked, his clothing isn’t invisible so he can’t wear it. He can’t eat or smoke or walk in dusty areas, all of those things make him visible. Also he can’t carry anything, so if he steals money (he can’t earn it), it appears to float about of its own accord, making people chase after him! It is almost as bad as king Midas’s dilemma, like Midas, The Invisible Man got his wish but it isn’t quite working out for him. Dust and moisture make his body visible in a ghostly way. His footprints appear in the dirt and snow. Oh yes and the small matter that the accumulated effect of these things has driven him to the edge of madness.

I liked the story, but I was constantly reminded of one glaring problem not mentioned in production. Wouldn’t an invisible man also be blind? If his corneas are absolutely transparent and his retinas are absolutely transparent, how would light be turned into mental images? The answer…. they wouldn’t be! An invisible man would be blind! For us to see the world a fraction of the light that hits our retina must be absorbed into our rods and cones, our corneas must focus the light. This issue made the whole story so implausible, in my mind it made me question whether this was science fiction at all! Thankfully I got over it. And have come to realize that even if it is flawed by this oversight, at least it demonstrates that philosophical fiction like all good science fiction is able to make us think out problems that don’t seem obvious at first. Who’d have thought invisibility would require blindness? Not me, at least not before listening to Alien Voices: The Invisible Man.