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David

Indiscriminate Reader

Member Since 2010

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HELPFUL VOTES
  • 215 reviews
  • 219 ratings
  • 1 titles in library
  • 17 purchased in 2014
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  • Starman Jones

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Robert A. Heinlein
    • Narrated By Paul Michael Garcia
    Overall
    (544)
    Performance
    (238)
    Story
    (246)

    Max Jones, a practical, hard-working young man, found his escape in his beloved astronomy books. When reality comes crashing in and his troubled home life forces him out on the road, Max finds himself adrift in a downtrodden land - until an unexpected, ultimate adventure carries him away as a stowaway aboard an intergalactic spaceship.

    Jeanene says: "A typical Heinlein Juvenile"
    "Heinlein's juveniles are great for any SF fan"
    Overall
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    I read a lot of Heinlein's juveniles when I was younger, but I missed this one and it was on sale from Audible, so it was nice to enjoy one of his earlier works, before he started getting old and wanky. Everything from Friday on was pretty much Heinlein getting his freak on, but his earlier novels are still sci-fi classics for good reason.

    Starman Jones is your basic boys' adventure story: Max is a kid from Earth who runs away from home when his stepmother marries an abusive bum. He meets an amiable drifter who turns out to be a not-so-good Samaritan, but he meets the man again when they're both trying to find a way off-planet, and the two of them lie their away aboard a spaceship. From there, Max's talent for math and his inherent good nature and sense of decency lead him from one position to another aboard ship, and when the ship gets lost, taking a bad "jump" to an unknown star system, Max of course is the one who saves the day.

    Obviously, this book was written for teenagers, but it stands up as pretty good adult SF even today, though it is a bit dated (it was written in 1951). The gender roles are pretty old-fashioned, and while Heinlein's FTL drives and beam weapons are standard sci-fi, you may chuckle when Max breaks out his slide rule to perform astrogation. Still, I think it compares favorably to any genre fiction written for kids today, and Heinlein did a much better job than most writers of bridging the gap between YA and adult fiction. I might not start with Starman Jones if you haven't read any of Heinlein's juveniles before -- it's pretty good, but it's not his best -- but if you're already a Heinlein fan, this will definitely be an enjoyable listen.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories

    • UNABRIDGED (4 hrs and 39 mins)
    • By Charlotte Perkins Gilman
    • Narrated By Kirsten Potter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (64)
    Performance
    (54)
    Story
    (53)

    This collection brings together 12 of the finest short stories of prominent American feminist author Charlotte Perkins Gilman. "The Yellow Wallpaper", Gilman's best-known work, was first published in 1892 and represents an important examination of 19th-century attitudes toward women's physical and mental health.

    C. Eagling says: "I love The Yellow Wallpaper. The other stories..."
    "Feminist literature or Lovecratian horror?"
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    Charlotte Perkins Gilman was famous as a 19th century feminist author, and apparently she's taught in a lot of feminist/women's studies courses. I was vaguely interested in her most famous story, The Yellow Wallpaper, so when this collection was an Audible deal of the day, I went ahead and downloaded.

    I'm glad I did. I'll get to the title story in a minute, but I found the other short stories - which were all about a woman being presented with a choice (usually in the form of a man). Clearly there is a feminist undertone to each story, though bear in the mind this is 19th century "First Wave" feminism, so it remains largely a given that even a spirited, talented, independent-minded woman is still going to marry eventually. But Gilman was first and foremost writing short stories meant to have a beginning, middle, and end, and does not beat her readers over the head with any "message." In that respect, these stories were quite enjoyable, some of them having an O. Henry twist. I particularly , in which a moralistic, wealthy old spinster aunt promises her two nephews $50 (a small fortune, especially to children) if they forego butter for an entire year, believing butter is bad for children and too "rich." They do, and when the year is up, the old hag gives them their $50 in the form of membership pledges in a missionary society. The reader seethes with anger along with the boys at the injustice of it, but Gilman delivers a satisfying coda to the story.

    Some of the stories are really just simple romances, though with a slightly feminist spin, but all of them showed that Gilman was a master of characterization and not bad as a prose stylist either.

    Now, The Yellow Wallpaper is famous because it represents an early feminist look at the treatment of women and mental health. The main character is a wife suffering in the aftermath of some sort of nervous breakdown and made to stay in an upstairs room decorated with a hideous yellow wallpaper that she abhors. She wants to leave, she wants to do something, she craves mental stimulation, but her kind but egostistical and patronizing physician husband refuses to let her go anywhere or lift a finger. And so he accomplishes exactly the opposite of his intent as she slowly goes mad.

    This has obvious significance as an indictment of how women with mental health issues were treated, how their concerns were not taken seriously, and how they could be reduced to powerless chattel even by the kindest and most well-meaning husband. However, as a horror fan, I submit that this story can be read completely differently...

    ... as a tale of Lovecraftian horror! A trapped woman slowly discovers the secret of the things that live in the in-between spaces accessible from our reality through unearthly patterns in a hideous yellow wallpaper. In the climax, her husband discovers her after she has gone insane from exposure to secrets man was not meant to know.

    Seriously, read it that way and it totally works.

    Anyway, I really liked these stories, even the ones that were very short and had not much in the way of conclusion.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 6 mins)
    • By Oscar Wilde
    • Narrated By Simon Prebble
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (521)
    Performance
    (427)
    Story
    (439)

    Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged---petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral---while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying and enchanting readers for more than 100 years.

    Daniel says: "Beautifully written, brilliantly read."
    "Satire of aestheticism"
    Overall
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    Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray tends to be classified as "horror" because the underlying premise is indeed one of supernatural horror: a dissolute young man is blessed/cursed with eternal youth, thanks to a portrait painted by an artist friend of his which reflects all the sins and depravities of his debauched life. As Dorian Gray stays young and beautiful, his portrait becomes more and more ghastly, until the karmic climax.

    Nonetheless, if you actually read the novel, the "horror" aspects, particularly the supernatural parts, are understated. Dorian Gray, who begins as a rather callow but not evil youth, falls under the cynical influence of Lord Henry Wotton, a professional member of the do-nothing aristocratic class. When the painter Basil Hallward captures Dorian's Adonis-like perfection on canvas, Dorian is overcome with the tragedy of his own face growing old and wrinkled while the painting will always capture him as he was, young and perfect. He wishes it could be the reverse, and gets his wish.

    Unlike in the movie versions, there is no magical Egyptian cat-god or explicit deal with the Devil that makes this happen — for Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray's selling of his soul was entirely metaphorical. He was apparently satirizing the Aesthetic Movement (though he was himself one of its more prominent representatives) which can best be summarized as "Art for Art's Sake." It was associated with decadence and disregard for social and moral judgments; Dorian Gray was a literal manifestation of the Aesthetic ideal: he sold his soul for Art (or rather, a piece of art).

    Dorian becomes increasingly heartless after his cruel treatment of Sylvia Vane, whom he loved for her art but then jilted when she let him down artistically. After a brief attempt at redemption, he becomes one of the most notorious men in London, though notably, the precise nature of his many evil deeds is never described, leaving it all up to the reader's lascivious imagination. He ruins lives and destroys everyone close to him, yet still manages to keep a few close friends like Lord Henry and Basil.

    (I definitely picked up some homoerotic vibes between Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil, which is interesting since apparently Wilde had to cut out some of the more overt homoeroticism when it went from serialization in a magazine to publication as a novel.)

    So, read as a horror novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray is kind of lightweight — it's definitely not "scary" — and as a satire/criticism of the Aesthetic Movement, it is not terribly subtle. However, Oscar Wilde was most famous for his bon mots, and reading Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil exchange wry witticisms is the real pleasure of the novel, even if none of them talk like actual people having real conversations. This book could be mined for quotable lines on every page, and as a story of a man falling headfirst into Faustian temptation, it definitely has its literary moments. It is not perfect (it's awfully convenient how often Dorian escapes judgment by someone else's timely death, and the prose is a bit turgidly Victorian), but it's a solid 4 star book. Definitely worth reading for the one-liners and for absorbing a very readable literary classic.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 9 mins)
    • By James Wesley Rawles
    • Narrated By Dick Hill
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1352)
    Performance
    (1002)
    Story
    (1014)

    America faces a full-scale socioeconomic collapse in the near future. The stock market plummets, hyperinflation cripples commerce and the mounting crisis passes the tipping point. Practically overnight, the fragile chains of supply and high-technology infrastructure fall, and wholesale rioting and looting grip every major city.

    Hugh says: "Accidentally Good"
    "An exhortation to live in an Idaho compound"
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    As a regular reader of James Wesley Rawles's Survival Blog, I was interested to hear what a novel written by him would sound like. Knowing he's a conservative Christian libertarian, I expected a big dose of hatin' on Obama and probably a bunch of atheist liberals getting what's coming to them, but in fairness, the author mostly keeps the right wing vitriol in check until the latter part of the book. But when it does emerge, boy does it ever.

    The first thing to know is that Rawles clearly hopes this book will "wake up" some of his readers, both to the threat he believes is facing the country and to the need to prepare for the coming collapse. Whether or not you believe that hyperinflation will cause a a total collapse of the U.S. government, I have always felt that there is some wisdom in preparing for worst case scenarios, for some value of "worst case." In other words, the preppers are not completely wrong. We can't all move to an armed compound in Idaho, as the characters in this book do, or even build bunkers in our back yards, but we can keep a month or two supply of dried rations, water, toilet paper, and first aid kits in storage. People with pets and kids and medications to juggle have to think more seriously about what they'd do if the power goes down for more than a day or two. And some of us might even include things that go bang in our preps...

    So, when you read this book, be prepared for lots and lots of lists, of firearms, ammunition, accessories, vehicles, survival gear, rations, batteries, fuel types, backpacks, you name it. There are chapters stuffed with "how tos" on everything from blood transfusion to farming. You couldn't actually use this novel as a guide in a real-life grid down situation, but reading it will make you think a lot about what sorts of things you'd need to know. A lot of reviews complain about the listology and the didacticism of the book, and that's a fair complaint - if you just want a good old fashioned post-apocalypse novel, Patriots is awfully dry at times. But since I do actually have an interest in the subject, I didn't get too bogged down with the "stuff you oughta know" parts.

    That said, Rawles is certainly not going to dazzle you with his prose or his characterization either. There are over twenty characters in this book, all of them friends who have supposedly been saving and stocking up for the apocalypse since their college days, and so we get chapters about each of them at one point or another. None of them are really distinguishable from one another beyond a few simply-described traits: there's the chubby Asian gun nut, the ex-Army Officer alpha male, the motherly nurse, the ROTC cadet prepper, the biker machinist (an awful lot of highly skilled individuals with all the right political and religious views just happen to wander down the road to the characters' compound), the token Jew and the token agnostic about whom I can literally remember nothing else, etc.

    The "plot" of the first part of the book is basically everyone getting together on their compound and weathering it out for a few years, as America goes to hell and they have to deal with looters (who are Marxists and cannibals and implied to be gay) and other prepper militias.

    Then comes the second part of the book. This is when the United Nations installs a provisional relief government, and the book shoots straight into gibbering right-wing lunacy. The UN troops are all mustache-twirling war criminals who think nothing of rape and torture, the American quislings promptly agree to suspending every single American civil right (literally the first thing a newly-arrived UN-backed American official does is give a speech to a skeptical community of survivalists that carrying a gun will henceforth be a capital crime), and soon we are seeing, I kid you not, FEMA concentration camps.

    The militia organized by the main characters joins up with a resistance movement, and in a few months they are able to kick heavily-armed UN troops with tank divisions out of the country because Americans are just that awesome. Then they rewrite the Constitution and institute a new U.S. government that would make the Tea Party collectively die of spontaneous orgasmic expulsion of their precious bodily fluids.

    I still give this book 3 stars because it was, after a fashion, both entertaining and informative, but it was like the author was trying to keep his rabid Euro-phobia and Red-baiting impulses in check for the first few hundred pages and then he couldn't hold it in anymore.

    If you have a serious interest in prepping combined with a love of post-apocalyptic novels, this book is worth reading, but if your interest is only in fiction, there are much, much better books, and if you're mainly interested in the survivalist aspects, try Rawles's non-fiction or his blog instead.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Life of Pi

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 41 mins)
    • By Yann Martel
    • Narrated By Jeff Woodman
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (10314)
    Performance
    (5587)
    Story
    (5618)

    Pi Patel has been raised in a zoo in India. When his father decides to move the family to Canada and sell the animals to American zoos, everyone boards a Japanese cargo ship. The ship sinks, and 16-year-old Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon it's just Pi, the tiger, and the vast Pacific Ocean - for 227 days. Pi's fear, knowledge, and cunning keep him alive until they reach the coast of Mexico, where the tiger disappears into the jungle.

    Theresa says: "Best audio of the year for me"
    "A good listen despite the agnostic-bashing"
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    I was expecting to dislike this book, because I'd heard that the narrator goes off on a rant about atheists and agnostics, and I have a bit of an aversion to be lectured about how empty and meaningless my life is without being filled with the author's favorite flavor of deity. However, as it turns out, the ruminations on religion (and atheism and agnosticism) were not nearly as soapboxy as I feared, and they come from the protagonist, who is a 16-year-old boy.

    Actually, Pi Patel's attitude towards religion is neatly summed up in his anecdote about his spiritual awakening in his hometown of Pondicherry, India. Inspired to "love God," he begins attending church, mosque, and temple, becoming a devout Christian, Muslim, and Hindu - all at once. Much to the distress of his priest, imam, and sadhu when his triple-dipping religious observances are discovered. This is evidently supposed to reveal something deep and universal about Pi's spirituality, but to me it revealed that he's a kid with an understandable yearning and curiosity about the divine, and no intellectual foundation or empirical experience with which to genuinely seek truth.

    But that's all in the first few chapters. Most of the book is about his months-long survival on a lifeboat in the Pacific with a grown Bengal tiger as his sole fellow survivor.

    How does a sixteen-year-old Indian boy survive months on a lifeboat with 450 pounds of hungry Bengal tiger and not get eaten? The tale is a fantastic one, and it's very well told, sprinkled with a great deal of information about zoology and animal behavior. I can't personally attest that Yann Martel did his research, though I haven't read any reviews by zoologists saying he doesn't know what he's talking about. But I found myself believing.

    Which is ironic, because in the climax, the investigators to whom Pi tells his tale, after he finally makes landfall in Mexico, do not believe him. So Pi tells them a different tale. The reader is meant to decide for himself, I suppose, which is the real one.

    I probably shouldn't compare this book to a Salman Rushdie novel, because while the main character is Indian, the author is not, so it should be a coincidence that Life of Pi reminded me a lot of Midnight's Children - the style, not the story. I haven't read enough of either Rushdie or Martel to know whether they really do have a similar style. But the fact is, those two Man-Booker Prize winners both narrated by young Indian protagonists do strike me as similar. Martel also writes about sometimes horrific events with a wry humor sprinkled throughout.

    So yes, this was a good book and I enjoyed it a great deal. But I'm still knocking off a star for the agnostic-bashing.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

    • UNABRIDGED (3 hrs and 49 mins)
    • By L. Frank Baum
    • Narrated By Anne Hathaway
    Overall
    (1994)
    Performance
    (1768)
    Story
    (1788)

    One of the best-known stories in American culture, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has stirred the imagination of young and old alike for over 100 years. Best Actress nominee Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married, Alice In Wonderland), fresh from filming The Dark Knight Rises, lent her voice to this uniquely American fairy tale.

    Thomas M Clifford says: "In Time for the Holiday.Give the GIFT of a STORY!"
    ""Why, you're just a great humbug!""
    Overall
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    Probably many more people have seen the famous Judy Garland movie than have read the book. I listened to this classic because it was an Audible download, and the narration by Anne Hathaway made it particularly delightful.

    L. Frank Baum wanted to create a new and original fairy tale that had all the magic and meaning of traditional fairy tales. Expecting this 100+ year-old children's book to be a childish product of its time, I was surprised that it really does hold up as the classic it is, with descriptive language and clever dialog that is suitable for its young audience but does not talk down to them. It's full of fantasy and magical creatures, but it's a genuine and well-constructed quest. (Fans of Joseph Campbell could probably map Dorothy's quest to the Hero's Journey, but let's not get carried away here...)

    Presumably you have seen the movie if not read the book. Surprisingly many of the famous quotes and scenes from the movie really are in the book. And the movie follows the story from the book pretty closely too, though of course some details are left out. The fearsome flying monkeys, for example, play a larger role in the book (and are more sympathetic creatures, being unwillingly bound to the Wicked Witch's service). Dorothy has more adventures in the book, even after killing the (second) Wicked Witch and returning to the Emerald City. And the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion are somewhat less comical figures, as Baum gave a little more depth to their deficiencies and how and why they sought to overcome them.

    Also, the book is rather bloody, with the Tin Woodsman hacking dozens of wolves and crows to death, and the Cowardly Lion slaying a couple of giant monsters! Although I think I've been told that we learn in subsequent Oz books that nothing ever actually dies in Oz.

    Anyway, this was fun to listen to even for an adult, and I'd recommend it for anyone who has children of an age to be read aloud to.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • The Currents of Space

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By Isaac Asimov
    • Narrated By Kevin T. Collins
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (318)
    Performance
    (220)
    Story
    (226)

    High above the planet Florinia, the Squires of Sark live in unimaginable wealth and comfort. Down in the eternal spring of the planet, however, the native Florinians labor ceaselessly to produce the precious kyrt that brings prosperity to their Sarkite masters. Rebellion is unthinkable and impossible. Living among the workers of Florinia, Rik is a man without a memory or a past. He has been abducted and brainwashed.

    thomas says: "Good Solid Asimov"
    "One of Asimov's better ones"
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    Story

    Asimov has never been one of my favorite SF authors, but I fondly remember reading many of his short stories when I was a child. He seemed to do best in that form, as he was full of ideas and could pack his encyclopedic knowledge of everything under the sun into a few pages, and never mind the cardboard personalities of his characters.

    The Currents of Space is set on the planet Florinia, whose inhabitants harvest "kyrt," which can be made into the most desirable cloth in the galaxy: it is super-durable, incredibly sheet, and infinitely useful. For some reason, kyrt only grows in the way it does on Florinia, among all the planets in the galaxy. (The reason for this is revealed in the climax.)

    Florinia is ruled by the wealthy Sarkites, who profit from controlling the sole source of kyrt, and who treat the Florinians like serfs. Florinian society is divided into the laboring class and "Townsmen," who are the local representatives of Sarkite authority. They are educated and given special privileges, and so put above the ordinary Florinians. In other words, they're overseers.

    When an amnesiac named Rik (which is a nickname meaning "idiot" to the Florinians) is found on Florinia, he triggers a series of escapades involving a cast of Florinians, Sarkites, and representatives from Trantor, the most powerful planet in the galaxy. The Trantorians dislike the Sarkites' oppression of the Florinians, but they fear being accused of imperialist ambitions themselves, and will not risk war with Sark - both because of galactic political sentiment, and because they'd risk cutting off the kyrt supply.

    In case the metaphor eludes you, it's explicitly stated that kyrt, grown anywhere but on Florinia, is ordinary cotton. So the story turns out to be a combination of planetary adventure and morality tale; Florinia must be saved in more ways than one.

    The plot was well written and brought out the motives and personalities of Florinians, Sarkites, and Trantorians, none of whom are wholly good or wholly evil. I was also pleased at Asimov's descriptions of this advanced interstellar civilization; despite being written in 1952, it was not as dated as some other Golden Age sci-fi. (Except for the women, of course. Asimov didn't treat his women as badly as Heinlein: he just treated them as woman-shaped plot devices.)

    If you like good old-fashioned intelligent space opera in a perfectly self-contained story (The Currents of Space is supposedly part of a trilogy and linked to Asimov's Foundation series, but it stands alone just fine), it is definitely worth reading.

    I found the narration to be particularly good in this audiobook, as Kevin T. Collins subtly shaded our perceptions of the characters by giving them definitive accents. The Sarkites: snooty and English. The Florinians: common and rural. A few of the cops ("patrollers") had Irish accents, and other characters likewise had accents that fit their personalities and roles in the story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Postman

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By David Brin
    • Narrated By David LeDoux
    Overall
    (217)
    Performance
    (195)
    Story
    (197)

    David Brin's The Postman is the dramatically moving saga of a man who rekindled the spirit of America through the power of a dream, from a modern master of science fiction. He was a survivor - a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war. Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale.

    Delbert Ealy says: "Excellent!!"
    "Mail-carrier of the Apocalypse"
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    The Postman does not feature zombies, killer plagues, or EMPs. The "Doom War" that ended civilization was set off by the rise of fanatics in the East and the West, leaving the U.S. (and all other countries) broken and depopulated. The depopulation happened not so much in the initial nuclear attack, but in the aftermath as civilization collapsed and millions starved or froze.

    Years later, a survivor named Gordon Krantz, who refers to himself, sometimes ironically and sometimes bitterly, as "the last surviving 20th century idealist," is traveling alone in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest when, fleeing from a band of brigands, he finds an old U.S. Postal Service truck, with the corpse of the mail carrier and his undelivered mail inside. Since he's freezing (thanks to the brigands taking his clothes), he dons the corpse's uniform.

    When he shows up at the next town, he declares himself a Postal Inspector of the "Reconstituted United States of America," which is supposedly rebuilding back East, and will be sending men and supplies and technology any day now.

    It's a con to get him a bed and a hot meal, but it quickly grows all out of proportion, until Gordon finds himself not only carrying the torch for a non-existent nation, but rallying troops in its name.

    Post-apocalyptic Oregon is a fairly realistic post-nuclear holocaust region - most people live in hardscrabble settlements, there has been minimal organization, but a few small enclaves of relative civilization. Of course they are all threatened by the "Survivalists" - remnants of the original survivalist movement, who have now become the warlords and orcs of post-apocalyptic North America.

    Most post-apocalyptic novels tend towards grimdark, for obvious reasons. The Postman has its share of violence and grit, but it is at heart an optimistic novel about the triumph of idealism and ethics over pure savagery.

    It's easy to see why The Postman was made into a movie. It's the sort of story intended to make you cheer at the end. While it didn't really present a new post-apocalyptic story per se, keep in mind it was written in 1985, before the current trend and all those YA imitators.

    A smartly plotted novel with bits of political and scientific philosophy sprinkled into the story, it's a recommended listen.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Romeo and Juliet (Dramatized)

    • ORIGINAL (2 hrs and 53 mins)
    • By William Shakespeare
    • Narrated By Calista Flockhart, Matthew Wolf, Julie White, and others
    Overall
    (373)
    Performance
    (324)
    Story
    (332)

    The most iconic love story of all time, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is an epic-scale tragedy of desire and revenge. Despite the bitter rivalry that exists between their families, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet have fallen madly in love. But when the long-running rivalry boils over into murder, the young couple must embark on a dangerous and deadly mission to preserve their love at any cost. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Calista Flockhart as Juliet.

    Darrel says: "Shakespeare by way of mush mouth"
    "Oh, those crazy kids"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Shakespeare's most famous play. Even people who failed out of high school know the story. But here's the summary:

    A pair of emo thirteen-year-old virgins fall in love at first sight, have the Truest and Most Special Love EVER in the History of Love!!!!, and kill themselves when their ill-thought elopement turns into a suicide pact. Boy do their families, the feuding Montagues and Capulets, feel bad then.

    I have seen the play of course, but it surprised me how fresh and entertaining it was to listen to it once again. If you have forgotten all the lines and the details of the full play, give it another listen. It really is a treasure trove of some of Shakespeare's best lines and characters. Tybalt, Mercutio, Paris, Benvolio, Balthasar... a bunch of swaggering young hotheads getting into fights with all the senselessness and testosteronic idiocy of gangbangers on the streets of Baltimore. Juliet's nurse is bawdy, gossipy, and hilarious.

    But what really struck me was just how annoying and immature and foolish the two lovebirds are. Everyone thinks of Romeo and Juliet as a timeless love story, two hearts kept apart by cruel, unreasonable parents. Yet like Disney's The Little Mermaid, if you read it with an adult perspective, you realize Dad has a point and the kids are idiots. Who plans the rest of their life based on one kiss at a masked ball?

    Romeo and Juliet's speeches, particularly when performed by actors giving them the proper emo voice, really spell out what silly and self-absorbed teenagers they are.

    For example, Romeo's conversation with their hapless accomplice, Friar Laurence, is delivered in the same flowery Shakespearean English as all the rest of the dialog, but look at the words and it's one long temper tantrum:


    'Tis torture, and not mercy: heaven is here,
    Where Juliet lives; and every cat and dog
    And little mouse, every unworthy thing,
    Live here in heaven and may look on her;
    But Romeo may not: more validity,
    More honourable state, more courtship lives
    In carrion-flies than Romeo: they may seize
    On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand
    And steal immortal blessing from her lips,
    Who even in pure and vestal modesty,
    Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin;
    But Romeo may not; he is banished:
    Flies may do this, but I from this must fly:
    They are free men, but I am banished.
    And say'st thou yet that exile is not death?
    Hadst thou no poison mix'd, no sharp-ground knife,
    No sudden mean of death, though ne'er so mean,
    But 'banished' to kill me?--'banished'?
    O friar, the damned use that word in hell;
    Howlings attend it: how hast thou the heart,
    Being a divine, a ghostly confessor,
    A sin-absolver, and my friend profess'd,
    To mangle me with that word 'banished'?



    "WAAAA! I can't see Juliet any more! I've been banished because I killed someone! This is a FATE WORSE THAN DEATH!!!!!"

    All the while Friar Laurence is trying to talk sense into him and telling him to get a grip, Romeo keeps going on and on about how he can't live without Juliet.

    Juliet is no better, of course, a lovestruck girl immediately willing to abandon her family and her city for this kid who kissed her on a balcony.

    The moral of the tragic ending seems to be interpreted by modern readers as "Parents shouldn't get in the way of true love, and feuds are stupid." But I tend to think an equally valid reading is "Teenagers are stupid and shouldn't be let out unchaperoned."

    It's a great play, though. Shakespeare still owns the English language, and Romeo and Juliet is perhaps underrated because it's so familiar and timeless that a lot of people who "know" the play have not really experienced the whole thing.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Red Mars

    • UNABRIDGED (23 hrs and 52 mins)
    • By Kim Stanley Robinson
    • Narrated By Richard Ferrone
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1031)
    Performance
    (461)
    Story
    (474)

    Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel, Red Mars is the first book in Kim Stanley Robinson's best-selling trilogy. Red Mars is praised by scientists for its detailed visions of future technology. It is also hailed by authors and critics for its vivid characters and dramatic conflicts.

    For centuries, the red planet has enticed the people of Earth. Now an international group of scientists has colonized Mars. Leaving Earth forever, these 100 people have traveled nine months to reach their new home. This is the remarkable story of the world they create - and the hidden power struggles of those who want to control it.

    Paul says: "If you like books with DETAIL not much Action"
    "The first Mars colony"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy is well-regarded by SF fans, but it didn't really live up to the hype for me, though it's an excellent entry in the hard SF genre. Robinson's prose is not as lyrical as Ray Bradbury's, but it's not as dry as Ben Bova's either. Red Mars seems to synthesize elements from all of Robinson's predecessors — it's a Heinleinesque adventure at times, with hard SF infodumps, but actual characters, and shout-outs to every author who's ever touched Mars, including Burroughs.

    Red Mars is the tale of the first Martian colony, and covers a couple of generations of history. The "First Hundred" who established the original settlement become larger-than-life, almost mythical figures to those who follow after them, but as Mars begins to be taken over by political and economic factions bringing old issues of exploitation and oppression (followed by resistance and terrorism) from Earth, the Hundred are just as conflicted and prone to squabbling and working at cross-purposes as all the other settlers.

    Early on, there is a huge debate over terraforming Mars, eventually becoming a conflict between the "Reds" and the "Greens." Eventually other cultures arrive on Mars and have their own ideas of what it means to be a Martian settler. Muslims make up a substantial segment of the population, as do Russians and other nationalities, all wanting to have an equal stake in Martian society.

    The ending shows the surviving members of the Hundred witnessing what happens after decades of emigration and development on Mars, with much of what has been built up brought down by an uprising among the children of Mars.

    If you are a space exploration geek, and especially if you are one of those who still dreams of a Mars expedition in our lifetime, then Red Mars may fire you up with a realistic view of what emigration to Mars might actually look like. It is almost certainly not an accurate picture of what will actually happen, should we ever get that far, but it's a realistic picture of what could happen.

    I give this book 4 stars for being one of the best Mars books out there, but not 5 stars, because the story and the characters just did not grab me enough to wonder, "What happens next?"

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By Tamim Ansary
    • Narrated By Tamim Ansary
    Overall
    (359)
    Performance
    (223)
    Story
    (219)

    Until about 1800, the West and the Islamic realm were like two adjacent, parallel universes, each assuming itself to be the center of the world while ignoring the other. As Europeans colonized the globe, the two world histories intersected and the Western narrative drove the other one under. The West hardly noticed, but the Islamic world found the encounter profoundly disrupting.

    Blake says: "Explains the clash between Islam and the West"
    "A history of the world before the West mattered"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    History books are frequently dry and factual, even when not written as textbooks, and when they're not, they tend to reveal the author's biases or axes to grind. Tamim Ansary, however, sets out to tell the history of Islam through Islamic eyes, not as an apologetic for Islam that ignores its less edifying historical episodes and its troubled present, nor as a Westerner viewing Islam as, at best, an exotically misunderstood Oriental tradition, and at worst, the religion of terrorists and women-in-burkas.

    Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-American, suggests that Islam and the West have for much of history existed in two parallel worlds, only rarely intersecting until the violent last few decades. The Dar-al-Islam, or the entire region that Ansary calls the "Middle World," between the European-dominated West and the Chinese-dominated East, grew, expanded, experienced theological and political revolutions, technological and scientific and literary evolution, and several foreign invasions much more significant than those Crusades that everyone today thinks were the most significant East-West interaction before the modern day.

    The vast majority of Muslims, even during the height of the Crusades, simply didn't notice the West, which for most of Islam's early history, was an impoverished backwater land of savage, squabbling kingdoms while the Middle East and North Africa was full of wealth and education and glorious cosmopolitan cities. The Crusaders seized some cities and killed a bunch of people and certainly left some profound historical legacies, but never really materially affected the Islamic world nearly as much as they think they did.

    The Mongols, on the other hand... they messed the Islamic world up.

    Before listening to this, I vaguely remembered the Ummayads, the Abbasids, the Ottomans, the various Caliphates and Sultanates and Emirates that rose and fell from immediately after Mohammad's death until the 20th century when Muslim nation states began to congeal into more or less their present forms. But Destiny Disrupted tells the entire sweeping epic with a historian's accuracy but a storyteller's verve. You will actually get caught up in the rise and fall of dynasties and the shifting epicenters of Islamic scholarship and Arab-African-and-Persian power, the changes in Islam as it goes from populist movement to institutional social paradigm to bureaucratic theocracy. Islam is a complicated religion, like Christianity, with its sects and schisms and interactions with the power of the state. Yes, to Muslims, religion has never been a separate entity from the state, as it came to be in the West, but still, Islam served the interests of rulers, got coopted by those in power, brought down those in power, caused fragmentation and changes in government according to different factions' understanding of how a proper Islamic state should be run, and so conflicts between clerics and kings did play out in their own way in the Middle East too.

    If you want to have more than a superficial understanding of how Sunnis and Shias split off from each other, and why India has been the location of so much Hindu-Muslim conflict, and of course, how the United States went from a modern nation Muslims admired and respected in the early 20th century to the Great Satan it is today (yes, a big part of the reason is Israel, but that's not the whole story, and most of the rest of the reason is oil, but that's still not the whole story), then you will get it here, but as the title indicates, this is a history of the world through Muslim eyes, and so the West really only comes into the picture towards the end. There is a huge amount of history that took place between Europe and China that most Westerners know little or nothing about, and this book will not only tell you about it, but make it interesting.

    The author's style is a great asset to this narrative. Ansary is not above tossing in wry commentary now and then, neither sparing Westerners nor Muslims from apt observations about historical hypocrisy and inconvenient truths. Ansary does not take a religious position — he obviously grew up as a Muslim in Afghanistan, but it's not even clear from his website whether he is a practicing Muslim today. So he doesn't try to "sell" Islam (and specifically calls out the historical revisionism of those liberal Muslims who today insist that "jihad" has never "properly" meant violent struggle against infidels — Ansary points out that yes it has, many times in history), but neither will he satisfy those of an anti-Islamic bent who insist that Islam is fundamentally and inherently a religion of violence and oppression and intolerance of unbelievers. Those who say that Muslims are incapable of peaceful, heterogeneous coexistence in societies that value reason and democratic principles ignore the fact that such Muslim societies existed for centuries.

    If you are a history buff and are interested in this little-served area of history, then I think you could hardly do better than Destiny Disrupted. You will be truly educated about fourteen centuries of history spanning a huge chunk of the world. It's a really good read.

    If you're looking for answers addressing contemporary issues - how Israel came to be and why it's an unending canker sore to Muslims worldwide, the origins of Wahabbism (Osama Bin Laden's brand of Islamic fundamentalism), the roots of the Taliban, how the West came to become the "Great Satan" and what Iran's problem is (and what Afghanistan's problem is, and what Syria's problem is, and what Iraq's problem is, and what Egypt's problem is....) then you'll find those here, mostly in the last few chapters, but this is not primarily a book dissecting modern Islam/Western issues. It's about the whole history of the world that happened before the West was important.

    Excellent book, highly recommended, an unreserved 5 stars.

    I would also like to single out Tamim Ansary's narration. Usually, an author narrating his own book is not a positive for me. Even great writers are rarely good narrators. But Ansary knows his material and puts all the right humorous and serious tones into his reading, and it really does sound like the author simply sitting there telling you this long historical tale, engagingly and interestingly.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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