Review of Startide Rising by David Brin

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Startide Rising by David BrinStartide Rising
By David Brin; Read by George Wilson
12 cassettes – 17.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
Themes: / Science Fiction / Galactic Civilization / Genetic Engineering / Aliens / Dolphins / Chimpanzees / Series /

The Terran exploration vessel Streaker is on the run from the combined forces of five galactic civilizations that are hunting for them. Low on resources and staying just one step ahead of their pursuers the ship and crew crash-land on an obscure water-world called Kithrup. Soon after, in orbit above Kithrup, the might of all five galaxies fights each other for the right to claim “the prize”. The prize being that the crew of Streaker has the co-ordinates of what may be the most important discovery in millennia, the coordinates of mothballed fleet of starships that may be over two billion years old.

The second book of the Uplift Series, Startide Rising is the winner Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards for Best Novel of the year (1983). At the center of the Uplift Series is the idea that an “uplift” of intelligent life is necessary in order to create sentient and spacefaring races. The species that uplifts another is called a “patron species”, the species being uplifted is called a “client species”, this process is deemed absolutely necessary for the development of intelligent spacefaring civilizations. This makes sense to the Humans because on Earth the Humans have by this point genetically re-engineered both Dolphins and Chimpanzees, uplifting them to sentience. Which immediately begs the question of “who uplifted humanity”?

Recorded Books did a beautiful job on the cover, the specially commissioned painting is perhaps the nicest ever done for an audiobook. Unfortunately the cover and the packaging, are the best thing about this novel. As with many multi-volume series the paperback and hardcover versions of this book include: A glossary, a cast of characters list, a prologue, an epilogue, a postscript and a drawing (in this case of the Terran starship). Now obviously the drawing wouldn’t be able to be conveyed by a narrator, so it’s loss isn’t a big deal. But the exclusion of the glossary and the cast of characters was probably a mistake, for this novel especially, this information might have helped. I don’t really blame the producers for excluding it though, at 462 pages (making it 12 cassettes) this beast is way too long as it is.

David Brin‘s has peppered some very interesting ideas throughout the novel. Some of the ideas presented are new spins on old themes, others are quite original and interesting, at least to my ears. The overall premise of “uplift” is interesting, and would definitely be worth reading about, except for one minor issue. This is a horrible novel. Its very very very talky, there are way way way too many characters, virtually every scene that WOULD be of interest takes place off-stage, in the past or is happening and being related by a third party indirectly! George Wilson, the reader, does his best to sort out much of the muddle, no small task with more than a dozen characters, none of which are major players in the plot. These flaws along with reading the unreadable voices of many dolphins, are almost too much for poor George. And it was certainly too much for me. I lost track of who was speaking and what they were talking about many times! This is an unforgivable and deadly sin for a novel and makes me wonder how both readers and writers of science fiction could give this novel an award of any type let alone both the Hugo and the Nebula! I’ll admit that, much of the difficulty here is probably a result of this novel being a part of a series, with established characters and continuing themes. One reason for which all in all I much prefer stand alone novels. But even among series novels this was perhaps the worst novel I’ve read in years. Were I not writing a review for it I wouldn’t even bothered to have finished it. That said, maybe like Neville, the last living man on the Earth in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, I’m really the one who’s abnormal. Maybe this isn’t a bad novel at all. Maybe, it really is a good novel and I’ve got something wrong with me! Maybe a cast of dozens talking endlessly about events that just happened, are happening elsewhere are happening now but being related by a no-name character reading a sensor bank really is interesting. If that really is interesting and I just can’t appreciate it I’ll just have to live without it because I’m not going to listen to any more of the Uplift Series.

Review of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Enders Game by Orson Scott CardEnder’s Game
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney and others
10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535145 (Cassette) – 1574535366 (Audio CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Space / Youth / Politics / Aliens /

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Enders Game by Orson Scott CardSpeaker for the Dead
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Gabrielle De Cuir, David Birney, Scott Brick, and others
14 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
ISBN: 1574535153 (Cassette) – 1574535609 (Audio CD)
Themes: / Science Fiction / Military / Space / Politics / Alien races / Religion /

Orson Scott Card wrote a pair of novels in the 1980’s that swept both the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel awards two years in a row (1986 and 1987 Hugo, 1985 and 1986 Nebula). These two novels are Ender’s Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead.

These books were released previously in abridged editions, which can still be found out there, but these Fantastic Audio unabridged editions completely eclipse those in both quality and content. They are multi-voice recordings, but not of the type where several actors take parts and speak for certain characters. Instead, the narrator changes with point-of-view changes in the novel, which occur chapter to chapter. I found this extremely effective with these novels. These unabridged editions also contain material read by Orson Scott Card, explaining the origins of the novels.

Ender’s Game takes place after a war between Earth and a race of aliens called “The Buggers” by most of humanity. Earth was saved during that war by the decisions of a brilliant military man named Mazer Rackham. The powers that be on Earth decide that the Buggers are definitely going to return, and immediately start searching for the next military genius. Ender Wiggin, 6 years old, is a boy they think might be the one.

Speaker for the Dead is a completely different kind of novel, both in subject matter and tone. Ender Wiggin is now a bit older, but still reeling from events in the previous novel. He visits a planet named Lusitania, where mysteries abound among the indigenous alien race on the planet and one particular family that studies them.

Both of these audiobooks are first-rate. The narrators do an excellent job telling the stories, which translate very well into unabridged audio. Though tastes certainly vary, Ender’s Game is consistently mentioned as one of the finest works of science fiction, and this audio version is an excellent way to experience it, or re-experience it.

Both of these audiobooks are available on audio cassette, audio CD, or for download at Audible.com.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Andromeda Strain by Michael CrichtonThe Andromeda Strain
By Michael Crichton; Read by Chris Noth
2 Cassettes – 3 Hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: 1993
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mystery / Disease / Disaster / Scientist / Medical /

A top secret research satellite falls to Earth near a small town in Arizona. Hours later a recovery team discovers that something  has killed off the town’s entire population except for an old man and a new-born baby, statistically the most likely age groups to succumb to any normal disease. In anticipation of such an event a team of microbiologists assembles in a top-secret, underground laboratory in the Nevada desert. This laboratory was designed to handle an accidental introduction of virulent organisms into Earth’s atmosphere and ecological systems. The team begins to study the survivors and the “toxic” satellite and discovers several black/green patches of deadly bacteria that they have code-named: The Andromeda Strain.

First Published in 1969, The Andromeda Strain is one of Crichton’s best science fiction tales and a terrific scientific mystery story! As the microbiology team races against the clock, trying to figure out the toxic effect of the alien infection, the US government contemplates a nuclear cauterization of the infected crash site. But when The Andromeda Strain mutates it begins to eat through plastic lab suits and rubber gaskets protecting the scientists and the population from escaping toxins. Its a real thriller of a story, and was successfully turned into a great feature film directed by Crichton himself.

This fine novel is only available as an abridgement, and this is unfortunate. The missing portions actually improve the novel to a very large degree because the novel is written in the style of a non-fiction report of events. The original text includes, images, citations, timelines and references, their absence is a disservice to the remaining story. Chris Noth, most famous for his role on the NBC television series Law And Order, reads with a rich and compelling voice. But Noth does merely a satisfactory reading, he makes good attempts with the scientific jargon replete throughout the novel, but they are often mispronounced. Added to this is his lack of range for the voices. Given more audiobook experience Noth will probably become a good reader, in this audiobook however, his performance is merely satisfactory. All in all well worth a listen, but I sincerely hope an unabridged edition is released.

Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation: Genesis Force by John Vornholt

Star Trek Audio - Genesis Force by John VornholtStar Trek: The Next Generation: Genesis Force
By John Vornholt; Read by Tim Russ
4 CD’s – 4.5 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Published: 2003
Themes: / Science Fiction / Star Trek / Genetic Engineering / Planet Destruction /

This book is the fourth in John Vornholt’s Genesis Wave series, which are all available on audio. It is a stand-alone novel about the inhabitants of the planet Aluwna, which finds itself in the path of the ultra-destructive Genesis Wave, which was created in the previous novels in the series. This book mainly involves characters from this planet, as they figure out how to save as many of their race as possible and then deal with the aftermath of the Wave’s passage.

Genesis Force is a very satisfying novel in it’s own right. The story is fast-paced and the stakes high for the rulers and inhabitants of Aluwna. Ambassador Worf and a fleet of Klingon warships play an important role, and we are given a good look at Worf’s relationship with his sons, along with a rare view of Klingons who have arrived to help, not to destroy.

Tim Russ is a very skilled narrator. I’d enjoy hearing more of his narration both in and outside of Star Trek.

See more about audio Star Trek on SFFAudio’s Star Trek page

Review of The Voice from the Edge Vol 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison

Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Voice from the Edge Vol 1 by Harlan EllisonThe Voice from the Edge Vol 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
By Harlan Ellison; Read by Harlan Ellison
5 CD’s – 6 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Published: 2002
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Short Stories / Artificial Intelligence / Time / Demons /

This is a collection of Harlan Ellison’s best (well… most popular) stories. The most oft-reprinted tales are here, among them: “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, “‘Repent, Harlequin,’ Said the Ticktockman”, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, and “A Boy and His Dog”. The stories are read by the author, who himself is a first-rate reader, lending an infectious energy to every story in the collection.

I personally know of no other author’s stories with which to compare Harlan Ellison’s. He’s arguably the finest writer of short fiction on the planet, building stories of great impact in such a short space. In “‘Repent, Harlequin'”, he gives us a parable of society’s dependence on the clock, making schedules look ridiculous enough to make one wonder what the heck we’re all doing. And this was written in the 1960’s! In “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, a man is given responsibility over the world’s last hour. The characters in “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” are trapped by a malevolent computer. These are great stories, every one. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection.

Stories included in the collection: “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, “Laugh Track”, “Grail”, “‘Repent, Harlequin,’ Said the Ticktockman”, The Very Last Day of a Good Woman”, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, “The Time of the Eye”, “The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke”, and “A Boy and His Dog”.

Review of Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination by Eric S. Rabkin

Audio Lectures Review

Non-fiction - Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination by Eric RabkinScience Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination
By Eric S. Rabkin; Read by Eric S. Rabkin
8 cassettes – 4 hours (8 half-hour lectures) [LECTURES]
Publisher: The Teaching Company
Published: 1999
Themes: / Non-Fiction / Science Fiction / Pulp / Hard SF / Cyberpunk / Utopia / Dystopia /

This one is a little different than our usual fiction reviews. Science Fiction: The Literature of the Technological Imagination is a non-fiction series of lectures about the origins, history, and influence of science fiction. Think of it as Science Fiction 101 and you’ll get the idea. As a course it fulfills the promise of its title, breaking down the origins and the meanings within in science fiction literature. Professor Rabkin is a talented lecturer. Though obviously scripted, his naturalistic lectures are thoroughly engaging. The lectures explore the history of science fiction back to its origins in Plato’s Republic, then steadily marches all the way to William Gibson’s Neuromancer. These lectures offer genuinely interesting insight, I learned something interesting in each and every lecture! Rabkin discusses the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, examines the pulp phenomena of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and gives examples of what makes hard SF “hard”. He looks at the social, technological, and literary forces that influenced the genre’s authors, and in doing so tells an entertaining story – the story of science fiction! In short, it’s a fascinating listen. I just wish that Rabkin would offer Science Fiction 201 next semester! Each half hour lecture could have easily been expanded into 2 hours.

The lectures are titled:

Lecture 1: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Emergence of Science Fiction
Lecture 2: Jules Verne and the Popular Passion for Science
Lecture 3: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction Parables of Social Criticism
Lecture 4: Pulp Culture, World War II, and the Ascendancy of American Science Fiction
Lecture 5: And the Winner Is…Robert A. Heinlein
Lecture 6: Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, and the Expansion of Science Fiction
Lecture 7: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Modern Science Fiction Film
Lecture 8: New Wave, Cyberpunk, and Our Science Fiction World