Red Mars (and The Mars Trilogy in general) asks big questions: How can we start over and recreate society, taking out the bad stuff and saving the good stuff? Can we escape history and remake ourselves into something that overcomes oppression of women, slavery, racism, greed, militarism, environmental destructiveness? Can we turn our society into a means for giving every member of that society a chance to achieve his or her own potential? These are big questions; they can't be answered with bumper sticker slogans. It takes a lot of detail and careful, thoughtful discussion to address them. So while a lot happens in this series, it isn't Star Trek. Problems aren't easily resolved. Situations are never black and white. The characters change, grow, and even forget how they got to the present.
For readers who like a lot of meat to chew over, these books are probably among the greatest written in the 20th century - obsessively researched, thickly layered with meaning and analysis; the whole series is something that you can listen to time and again, and hear something different every time. The characters are archetypes; even their names express who they are - but they are also real people, with real emotions, amazingly and skillfully brought to life. The issues discussed are both a comment on the present (and history) and, in the best tradition of science fiction, an analysis of future possibilities. I can't recommend the entire series more highly for the reader who enjoys this sort of thing. But be forewarned - there are bad reviews here, and I'm guessing they are from people who were looking for something different - lots of plot and action, perhaps a little less analysis. I enjoy those books too, so I'm not saying that as a criticism of those who didn't find this to their liking. I'm just saying that there are plenty of other books that fill this role. The Mars Trilogy is something else entirely.
This is an interesting topic read by a skilled lecturer. No bad stuff happens in it - you won't cry, although you might laugh - and you can forget about politics and global warming and warfare for awhile - and just learn about something that evolves naturally - language. Each lecture is 15 minutes long, so there are no great demands on your time if you can only listen in bits and pieces. Well worth the credit.
Quite often we encounter in reviews the opinion that writers are not skilled enough to narrate their own work. If that is true, here is the exception that proves the rule! If Steven King had not been a best selling author, he surely could have done this for a living. What a treat to hear him give voices to the various characters he reads for in the writing lesson portion of this work. It surely would have been acceptable for him to read them in his own voice, but he goes the extra mile.
Witty, self-effacing, not afraid to reveal even the most embarrassing episodes from his youth, he has created a book on writing that is also the story of his own journey to becoming a writer, as interesting as any autobiography out there. He also offers a lot of good advice to would-be writers, useful stuff whether you are actually an aspiring novelist or just have to do routine writing for work.
I think it's one of his best books, and I will listen to it multiple times.
Each one of these little stories has some theme or reverberation from one of KSR's longer works, and like those longer works, contain a lot of food for thought and a depth that means you can listen again and again and find something different each time.
I bought this just for the "Escape from Kathmandu" portion, and it is wonderful to hear it read by such a skillful narrator. The full book of four stories is KSR's funniest work, and ought to be an Audible book all on its own. However, all the stories are such little gems, and read with such feeling for the work that now I can't decide which one I like the best.
This narrator is my favorite of those KSR books I have listened to so far. I wish that Audible would get him to re-do the Climate in the Capital series, which is such a timely work, and would be well worth doing with a narrator who does justice to the emotional feel and depth of the work.
I believe I downloaded this book and its companion, The Winds of War, from a Audible list called "Magnum Opus" or something of that sort. It was no lie. These two books are among the best Audible has to offer.
Herman Wouk must have decided to write his own, American, version of War and Peace, and while not many writers could compete with Tolstoy, he had the chops to pull it off. The novels, simultaneously heartbreaking and inspiring, have everything a reader (or listener) could wish for: historical research, character development, plotting, great themes.
Audible chose wisely in getting Kevin Pariseau to narrate these two books. He not only had to be able to pronounce bits of language and place names from locations around the globe, but also to sing songs representing a variety of cultures. Who can do that? Kevin Pariseau can! There are too many examples of his brilliance to list, so I'll limit myself to just one: I'm thinking of a section in which he had to sing an old song from the twenties as one of the characters reflected on the happier days of her marriage - and somehow he managed to give it the scratchy shaky feel of an old 20s record.
By any measure, these two books and the Audible productions of them are outstanding.
This is a book that has the word "soul" in the title and might seem to have an underlying religious theme. It's not really a book just for religious people, and I say that even though the final chapter discusses god. Actually the book is more of a discussion on the nature of consciousness, and how if you understand a little bit about how consciousness works (even though none of us really know what it is), you can allow yourself the freedom to live mindfully and step back from the things in life that trouble you. The book contains very good advice, and the instructions are explained simply so that they are relatively easy to follow. Nevertheless, being mindful is a difficult thing to do and requires practice. This is one of those books in which you get more value from it being short and direct; you can listen to it again and again, and at the very least maintain the goal of working towards living mindfully.
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.
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