The novel covers themes that Dick often explored in his writing - the nature of reality and how well we can trust our own interpretations of it, as well as the effect of drugs on our perceptions.
In this story of Jason Tavener, a celebrity who wakes up in a fleabag motel to find himself an overnight unknown, there are a lot of possible explanations for what happened, and the listener is kept guessing while Dick takes us through all the various characters who might help Jason figure out how to get back to his real life. I wouldn't like to give away too much of the ending, but I'll just say there was a similar denouement in the short story "The Electric Ant," which I personally liked better.
I think part of the problem for me was that Scott Brick simply wasn't the right narrator for this story. I have enjoyed his narrations in the past, and I bought this story mostly because I am a big fan of Philip K. Dick's, but partly due to the fact that Scott Brick was reading it. Unfortunately, his style just doesn't seem suited to Dick's dark humor. And there is definitely humor in Dick's stories, even though he is usually writing about such topics as drug abuse, police brutality and alienation from society.
For listeners who want to give a Philip K Dick story a try, I would recommend Paul Giamatti narration of A Scanner Darkly instead. It's grim and tragic, but Giamatti will also make you laugh.
I'm not sure there is any way to sum up this story that doesn't sound deadly dull, and even though I'm a big Stephenson fan, I put off reading this one for years based on all the reviews and plot summaries that are out there. All I can say is, if you like Stephenson, just forget that this is supposedly set in some monastery for eggheads and have fun with it. This is a big Stephenson-esque tour de force that's part treatise on the nature of consciousness, part social commentary on our own world, and part Heinlein-style adventure story - only the adventure part is better than anything Heinlein ever did, almost as if Stephenson is saying, "Look, this is how you write science fiction adventure stories for teenagers."
William Dufris was just right for narrator (the others are there to read definitions from the "Dictionary"). I was much happier with him in this one than in Cryptonomicon, in which he made Bobby Shaftoe sound like Gomer Pyle. This time, I think he did an admirable job with most of the character's voices - although Orolo's voice is quite elderly, and if you do the math (not hard the way their world is structured), he could hardly be over 50. Overall, Dufris has a cheerful, slightly ironic way of reading that strikes the right chord for this work.
Finally, a note on the new vocabulary. It's pretty clear a lot of work went into creating the names for things on planet Arbre. These are not new words for new things, but simply different words for things we already recognize, and a lot of them make sense in context. Jeejah actually isn't a bad word for a cellphone, especially the screeching obnoxious things that are a nuisance at social events, and bullshyt is actually a pretty good word for that particular concept. Among other things, this is a funny book, and the new vocabulary, clever in that way, helps to set the tone.
Stephenson fans, this is one you will not want to miss.
Every science fiction story is a reflection of the time it was written, and if it is good, it is a commentary on that time. Snow Crash definitely belongs to the 1990s, even if it is set in the future, and as is usual with Neal Stephenson novels, goes into as much detail as the listener/reader would care to know about how things work. Some of his futuristic technology is already dated, which is not surprising, seeing how quickly the digital world has evolved and mutated since the book was written, but his humorous style still makes it all somehow fresh and new. The social commentary is still relevant, if not more so, as he brings to life an America in which everything has been carved up by special interests into a libertarian fantasy world, where taxes can't be collected and the US government only exercises power over those federal employees who still choose to work for it; former American citizens must choose which special interest group they would like to belong to, and if they want something like protection or a defense system, must hire the Mafia or some sort of corporate police force. Terrorists can bring nuclear weapons and other devices in and out of the former States at will, and it is up to individual groups to try to stop them, if they would care to do so. Stephenson leaves it to the individual reader to decide if this is a dream or nightmare, so the story can be enjoyed by people of all political persuasions.
Into this setting, Stephenson brings an adventure store that lets him analyze such things as the nature of consciousness and the role language and social connections play in its existence. The nature of consciousness is one of those topics he comes back to time and again, and he developed some of these ideas more fully in Anathem, which is also here on Audible (and which I highly recommend). Snow Crash is definitely one for his fans who are interested in seeing how he developed his ideas over the years.
Jonathon Davis never disappoints, and he was an excellent choice as narrator of this book. He is able to deliver that slightly ironic edge that the work demands, and is skilled enough to give every character a distinct voice. No matter how many times our hero, Hiro, was described as being a half-African American, half Asian man in his 20s, Davis recognized that in the '90s only one actor would have been chosen to play this part had a Hollywood movie version been made - even if he doesn't match the racial description of the character in the book - and Davis is able to pull off an absolutely flawless Keanu Reeves as the voice of Hiro. A little social commentary of his own, no doubt.
Science fiction as we know it today would not exist without H.G. Wells, and no science fiction reader's library would be complete without a copy of War of the Worlds. In this version read by the incomparable Simon Vance, Audible has produced a real treasure. The story is first of all a tale of alien invasion, and indeed is so terrifying that no movie version comes close to the feelings of suspense it creates (of course some people found the radio version created by Orson Welles pretty scary too). I can't think of any description concerning the fall of civilization that succeeds as well as that short passage describing the flight from London before the invading Martians. But it's a lot more than just another horror story. Wells offers enough commentary to let us know that the plot allowed for a way of looking at how the British empire treated its subject peoples at the time. It is also a good look at how human beings react under pressure and what coping mechanisms work - and which ones don't - when the unexpected happens. It has as good a description of PTSD as any you'd read in any modern book, and this was decades before the syndrome was even defined. Amazing that we find all this in a compact work that comes in at under 6 hours. As much as I love a good thick novel, I'm really impressed by the succinct style and humanity of H.G. Wells. There are several versions of this classic book, but I can't imagine a better reader than Simon Vance for War of the Worlds, so this is the version I'd recommend to the undecided.
When a person is writing his own memoirs, he can choose to remember anything he wishes and edit the themes to fit a certain narrative. Bearing this in mind, I would say that if even half the stuff in this book is true, Michael Moore was born to be a thorn in the side of the right wing, and to have chosen any other career would have been to ignore his true calling in life. And you can find confirmation for at least half this stuff if you start looking for it.
For one thing, I remember being puzzled a few years back when my father suddenly announced, "Michael Moore hates America." As my dad hadn't been to the movies in years, I was surprised he even knew who Michael Moore was, and if you have ever seen one of MM's movies, you know that he might hate many things, but America is not among them. This mystery was cleared up in the opening essay of this book, confirming for me at least that part of the story was true. A couple of the more amazing stories have photographic evidence in the accompanying PDF. (It's a nice touch that Audible listeners get the photos that go with this book, unlike so many others on Audible).
Lest this sound like the book is all self-aggrandizement, I would like to say that is not so. Michael Moore does not shy away from telling us embarrassing or shameful things about himself, but I wouldn't like to give any spoilers here. His voice is honest, funny, and filled with the emotion that make his movies such masterpieces of cinematic art. He is a good movie maker because he is a good storyteller, and I can only hope that there are more of these books to come!
Rob Lowe's memoirs are quite interesting, and, as he indicates in title, told in the style of stories or vignettes usually with a surprising or unexpected twist to them. I suspect this book would be highly entertaining in written form - Lowe is a sensitive and intelligent writer, with a surprising gift for storytelling - but, given a choice, I would have to say that this Audible version is really the way to go. It is hard to beat hearing tales from his childhood or early auditions in his own voice, but as he is a really gifted actor, he succeeds like few other writers could in giving voices to all the other people in his life as well. This book is worth listening to for the impressions alone.
I particularly enjoyed his story because he is only a few years younger than me, so I got a kick out of hearing him talk about growing up in the 70s. But I would recommend this book to just about anyone who enjoys autobiography and learning about another person's journey of self-discovery.
This book is the first part in a five part series, and only the first four books are available on Audible. I would say that this series is the story of the torturer's apprentice Severian, and his journey from lowest and most despised member of society to the throne, set in a far future Earth in which civilization and society are on a slow decline. I would say that, except that this is less a story and more a multi-dimensional mental jigsaw puzzle. The series requires that you, the listener, pay a great deal of attention to the plot, characters and vocabulary, and then listen to the whole thing all over again, possibly a few times, to get the richness, complexity and beauty of Gene Wolfe's vision. If you are prepared to make that kind of commitment, this is a great bargain as it will repay you in many hours of listening pleasure, getting better each time you listen again.
If you are not familiar with Gene Wolfe's work, you would probably be surprised to hear this series compared to Lord of the Rings. After all, how many stories can live up to that kind of comparison? Amazingly The Book of the New Sun series does, and in some ways exceeds it, as these are more adult stories with some added layers of complexity.
Audible really outdid themselves with this production. I can't imagine a finer narrator for this series than Jonathon Davis. His pacing, emphasis, vocal expressions and various character renderings are flawless. The pacing is particularly important, as nearly every sentence contains some clue to solving the final puzzle.
I hope the final book in the series, The Urth of the New Sun, will be available at some point. Although written a few years after the first four in the series, it fits in so well with the rest of the story and solves so many unanswered questions that it appears to have been planned all along.
I admit, I'm a sucker for a time travel story, so I bought this as soon as it was available on Audible. And I've listened to it twice since then, so it definitely has its good points. Still, I find myself wavering between a three and four star rating.
First, the good stuff: I liked the time travel mechanism itself. Everyone seems to like Jack Finney's Time and Again, so I was terribly disappointed when Finney's way of traveling to the past turned out to be "dress up in time appropriate garb, go to a place that existed during the time you want to visit, and try really really hard to imagine yourself there." Excuse me, but that sucks. Give me something to work with, even a flux capacitor.
King's bubble leftover from the birth of the universe or whatever it's supposed to be is a lot better. It's cool traveling back through the little dark passage in the back of the hamburger shop. King gives us great descriptions of that, and we feel right at home when he takes us to Maine in 1958. I could practically taste the root beer. I know King is speaking right from his own memories, and it feels so real.
Another good point. We know that Jake can't save Kennedy. Everyone knows how the story turns out already. I admit, I was wondering all along if King was going to pull an Inglorious Basterds on his readers, so there's suspense right through the whole plot. I really liked how he handled this part of it. He takes a story we already know the ending to, and turns it into something that keeps us guessing. Well done.
But here's the part that I don't like. The main characters. First, Jake. Jake simply does not work. He is not believable, and the reason he is not believable is because he no more belongs in 2011 than Carrie White or Arnie Cunningham do. For better or worse, King's storytelling techniques are trapped in his youth. The parts of the time travel story work when he's writing about that time. But his main character and his accidental slip-ups feel forced. He'd have done better to set his character's time as 1975. It would have flowed more naturally.
The other character that doesn't work is Sadie. Maybe she does work in the written version, I don't know. I only know that the narrator makes her sound as if she is about 65. She and the old Texan ladies Jake hangs around with are interchangeable. The narrator simply can't sell her as the young virginal blonde. She is supposed to be a smoker, sure, but would the smokes have aged her voice that much? Every time she and Jake get romantic, it's just creepy, definitely not sexy.
So this story is fun - definitely better than Under the Dome - and Stephen King fans should give it a try. But Mr. King, my advice to you is set your next story in 1976. You don't need cell phones or iPads or stem cell research to make your plots work, so give them up, please.
I love Jon Krakauer's writing, but I never wanted to read this book because I always assumed that it was about a young man who had chosen a unique way of suicide, which is not the kind of thing I associate with entertainment. But recently a friend convinced me to watch the movie, and, after seeing it, I could see that Chris had been looking for a way to live life more fully - definitely not suicide - and I was left wanting more.
And there is definitely a lot more in the book! Both Chris and his parents get a much more balanced and sympathetic treatment than they got in the movie, for one thing. I don't say this as a criticism of the movie; I understand how things have to be shortened and simplified for that medium. It just means that movies can't really tell the whole story.
This is one of those stories that become more than the sum of its parts, and this is because of Krakauer's gift as a storyteller. He took the story of what caused Chris's unfortunately premature demise and turned it into a discussion of such themes as relationships between generations; the way the old have of forgetting what it felt like to be young; and, especially, how it feels to be young and full of hope and enthusiasm with a wish to challenge yourself and find out what you are made of.
It's an excellent book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of wilderness stories.
"Under the Dome" is being compared to King's earlier and greater work, "The Stand." "Dome" is entertaining, and I give it 3 points mostly for King-isms such as "Nothing runs like a Deere." (Of course the narrator deserves some credit for the delivery too.)
It's no "Stand," however. The big difference is that King devotes the entire work of the "Dome" to the subject covered in about 1/6 of "The Stand" - that is, the destruction of the world he's writing about. "The Stand" deals with that and then moves swiftly on to the part which I personally found more interesting; would it be possible to reconstruct society after the loss of so many people? That King had to use the hand-wavium of supernatural events to pull the protagonists together into one location shows that Stewart's "Earth Abides" describes the likelier outcome of such a catastrophe, but in "The Stand," King manages to pull off a fairly exciting work on the subject. In "Dome," however, King becomes one of those kids burning ants under a magnifying lens that he talks about in the book; he creates characters - some really evil bad guys and some weak and ineffectual good guys - then he spends the rest of the book watching them jump through hoops while everything goes crashing down around them.
If you thought the best part of "The Stand" was part 1, you'll enjoy "Under the Dome." If you're a hard core SF buff and would like a more character-driven and more scientifically interesting look at this notion of what would happen if you were cut off from the rest of the universe, I highly recommend Robert Charles Wilson's "Spin" instead.
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