This is a very good reading of the plays - the director uses lots of music and sound to the reading to give it the feeling of a full performance. The translation is engaging and contemporary. Some of the actors are a bit hammy and seem to enjoy the sound of their own voices too much, but otherwise this does a great job of communicating the power of the plays.
"2061" is a perfectly decent space thriller. The trouble is, one expects more than that. After all, it's a sequel to "2001" and "2010", two of the most brilliant and mind-expanding classics of epic sci-fi ever written. As a result, it feels a lot flatter and more disappointing than it should. The best way to experience it is to forget about its illustrious forbears and just enjoy it as a mildly diverting space thriller.
It has the usual Clarke failings: cardboard characters and clunky exposition. And this is an old man's novel; it's mostly about amiable old codgers puttering around and dispensing wry comments. Even when the action starts, every character responds to terrifying situations with wry humour, which gets a bit irksome after a while. Everyone's. So. Damn. Wry.
But the journey to Halley's Comet is interesting (and if you've seen the real-life photographs of comet 67P from the Rosetta probe you'll find Clarke's descriptions of a cometary surface remarkably accurate). The exploration of the revitalized Jovian moons, springing to life beneath their new sun, is fascinating. The mystery of Mt Zeus is intriguing and has a great payoff. And the last few chapters suddenly acquire the level of magisterial profundity that the Odyssey series ought to have, and might even bring a tingle to the spine.
Scott Brick is a solid narrator. I'm not convinced by his handling of the South African characters. But he captures the wryness perfectly.
I had almost given up on Kim Stanley Robinson. Although I love the Mars Trilogy (warts and all), his subsequent work seems to have degenerated as his brilliant ideas are too often let down by plotless pontificating and lengthy passages that read as though he is typing up his research notes. After the execrable disappointment of "2312", I had sworn off him.
But the good reviews of Shaman made me take a risk - and it is indeed wonderful, one of the best things Robinson's done in a long time. Although this is not a book with a lot of plot, and much of the writing is clearly based on immense amounts of research, the structure is clear and focused, and the descriptive writing is always clearly tied to developing the relationships between the characters. The novel plunges you into an alien world and all the myriad details serve toward making that world feel intensely real. And the central relationship of Loon and Thorn is a sensitive and moving depiction of the value of passing on knowledge.
Having read other attempts at depicting this period - "Clan of the Cave Bear" and "The Inheritors", I found this one by far the most convincing and absorbing. I particularly liked the way Robinson rendered the Neanderthal character - he's succeeded in creating a figure that is intelligent and humane and yet not *quite* human.
I recommend that readers watch Werner Herzog's documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" before reading, as the book is clearly inspired by it and it will enrich the cave-painting scenes.
The narrator is so good and makes the novel flow so effortlessly that I cannot thing of anything to say about him - the highest compliment possible!
No major spoilers below.
Initially, this book seems like Cloud Atlas, with a series of stories taking place in different historical periods that seem at first tenuously related, but gradually reveal connections between them. However, it's ultimately a lot more logical and straightforward than Cloud Atlas:the connections between the stories are soon revealed to have clearly defined reasons and by the end of the novel all has been thoroughly explained with bucketloads of exposition. Unlike Cloud Atlas, which leaves you scratching your head and wanting to go back and read it again multiple times, this novel leaves you satisfied but with no desire to read again. Both kinds of novels are of course good, but I personally preferred the more enigmatic and challenging form of Cloud Atlas.
The novel has six chapters, each of which is read by a different narrator and each of which is a pastiche of a different literary style. Different people will find them differently engaging so here's a brief sense of what to expect.
1. Written in the style of a teenage Essex girl. I found it richly detailed and engaging. The narrator's voice is perfect for the character, although she makes no effort to distinguish characters, making the dialogue scenes hard to follow.This chapter is full of British slang spoken at high speed, which may make it difficult for international listeners, but hang in there, the rest of the novel is easier.
2. Written in the style of a smug, entitled public schoolboy. The transition from one voice to the next is sudden and jarring but Mitchell does a great job of making it quickly engaging. Again, the reader has the perfect voice for the character although he too seems inexperienced at audiobooks and is probably the least smooth of the readers.
3. Written in the style of a middle-aged war reporter. From here on, the readers seem a lot more professional and easier to listen to, and this one is particularly strong.
4. Written in the style of a satire on literary celebrity, with a sneery, over-educated protagonist. The reader is a lot of fun, but this chapter felt longer than the others and a little indulgent. Its comic tone feels (deliberately) discordant.
5. Written in the style of sci-fi fantasy. This chapter suddenly brings in a ton of exposition and the novel takes a turn toward high fantasy. Some of the content is wonderfully imaginative but some of the events felt (deliberately, pastichy?) cliched. The reader is fine, but slightly flat and dull, and makes the complex writing feel somewhat dead. She also gives the wrong accent to one of the major characters in a very jarring way.
6. Written in the style of a post-apocalyptic novel. This sequence is beautifully written and emotionally powerful, with a superb performance by the reader who communicates great emotion with great restraint.
Summary: it's good, but listeners may struggle with some chapters and while it's very satisfying it lacks the limitless fascination of Cloud Atlas.
Overrated and overlong. I saw the 'twist' coming after about 10 minutes. I was drumming my fingers for the reveal, but it took hours. Finally, it arrived. Then the novel became rather intriguing and gripping. I liked this bit. But then the one of the characters began to behave completely out of character for no reason and from then on the novel descended into clumsy contrivance upon contrivance.
And it's so darn long. It would have made a really good 2-hour David Fincher movie. Oh wait...
The readers are adequate.
On of Barry Unsworth's best novels and all the better for being short and punchy. It plunges you into a very believable medieval worldview and meditates on the relation between art and reality, while also spinning a gripping murder mystery tale at the same time. Michael Maloney's reading is a true performance - he speaks in a breathy, hyperactive voice that captures the novel's intensity extremely well.
I'm no expert on the subject (which is why I wanted a 'very short introduction') but I learned a great deal from this book. A lot of information is packed into a short listen but it is well organized and carefully designed to lead you through a complex subject. To my untutored ear, it did not seem to favour one side; you can understand the suffering and the anger of both. The reader is not very exciting but he is listenable.
A really excellent reading of this iconic short story - the reader gives a very polished performance in which she gradually builds in intensity to match the increasingly hallucinatory nature of the prose. This reading would be a great way to experience the story for the first time or to re-experience it in a new light.
I've read a few novels on the subject of the interactions between the French missionaries and the First Nations in North America during the 17th century, and this one is essential reading if you're interested in the subject. Boyden has clearly set out to immerse himself in both cultures and to try to give each an equal amount of respect. The missionaries are naive and arrogant but are also brave and have integrity in their spiritual beliefs. The native belief system and way of life is made fully comprehensible and possible for the reader to identify with yet Boyden doesn't sentimentalize the First Nations into New Age hippies - he pulls no punches in depicting their culture as patriarchal and militaristic. It's an amazing depiction of two worlds that feel intensely real and are trying to understand each other. And the plot never goes in the directions that you think it will.
I should also warn listeners of a sensitive disposition that the novel contains numerous detailed and intensely disturbing descriptions of the long, drawn-out tortures of prisoners that dominated the wars between the Huron and the Iroquois. It is the stuff of nightmares and while it's essential to the plot and themes, many listeners will find it hard to deal with.
Although I found the novel fascinating on an intellectual level, the characters and story sometimes left me cold and felt a little flat. The main problem is that although the two cultures are presented with superb complexity, the three protagonists are excessively good-hearted and admirable, to the extent that they feel rather cardboard when compared with the minor characters. This problem is exacerbated by the three readers, who are all competent but never exciting. This makes parts of the novel drag.
Overall though, this is essential reading for anyone with a strong stomach and an interest in the subject.
"Wild at Heart" is a crazy novel. It is almost plotless and most of it consists of characters recounting bizarre anecdotes in cartoonish Southern dialect. But it's enjoyable for the irrepressibly charming relationship of Sailor and Lula whose indestructible love for each other is very moving despite the absurdity and craziness of the world they travel through.
Reading Barry Gifford out loud is incredibly difficult, thanks to his use of extreme Southern dialect? And his densely-packed pop culture ref'rences? You know? Eva Kaminsky does a pretty good job. It's not a bravura performance, as the drawl gets a little monotonous at times, but on the whole she captures the lazy, spaced out style and the accent really well, and succeeds in ensuring that the protagonists are loveable. She made we want to listen to the rest of the series.
I won't add to all the other plaudits. I'll just say that if you're wondering what all the fuss is about Roy Dotrice, you just have to get through the first chapter. His reading starts off a bit stilted and by an unfortunate coincidence all the characters in chapter 1 are little old men who all sound the same. After chapter 1 he warms up and gets to show off his range, which is quite wonderful. Trust in Roy!
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