If plot is your passion, don't read this book. The characters are cardboard and it has very little sense of conventional drama or progression. Instead, it's a beautifully-written description of the gradual construction of a space elevator, from the germ of the idea, to its ultimate fruition. Maybe Clarke should have just written a non-fiction book on the subject, but in practice his majestic descriptions are more thrilling within the context of a narrative, however clunky.
I like to think of this book as a prose poem, rather than a novel. Clarke uses the central idea as an opportunity to wax lyrical about human ambition and the urge for progress. He spins into the mix a tale of an ancient Sri Lankan king and an amazing description of humanity's encounter with a knowledge-disseminating alien spacecraft that passes through the solar system on its own mission of discovery.
The lack of drama in the plotting doesn't bother me, as I love Clarke's exploratory, thought-provoking ideas. The only awkward bit is the final third, which spends too much time on a tension-free, slow motion rescue mission on the tower.
The reader does a competent job although I was irritated by the indefinable accent that he gave to the main character.
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!
I can't add much to the many other plaudits here, which are well earned. I'll just say that if you don't enjoy the first half hour, stay with it: it's not like that all the way through, and you will eventually acknowledge that it was necessary to begin the book that way. Trust the author, he knows what he's doing!
This is a very entertaining piece of hard science fiction with a delightfully tense and unpredictable storyline. I'm giving it 4 rather than 5 for the somewhat overlong engineering sections. There's also a glaring plot hole in the first third of the book and a point two-thirds in where the author's reluctance to represent any genuine emotion becomes exceptionally cowardly, but I can't explain these flaws without spoiling the plot, so you'll just have to see if you agree with me! It's worth putting up with them.
I chose this book because I like plausible sci-fi set in our solar system and had run out of Kim Stanley Robinson and Arthur C. Clarke. On one level it disappointed me as it doesn't have the epic grandeur of those novelists. There are no journeys across the landscapes of planets and moons; instead, the novel is set almost entirely on grungy cargo vessels and in the corridors of seedy space stations. This wasn't really what I was looking for, but the novel is undeniably successful at doing what it's setting out to do: that is, create a blue collar sci-fi thriller in which the heroes live in the gritty underbelly of mankind's future.
The writing is solid if unexceptional and the story, though ultimately quite silly, is unpredictable and well-orchestrated. The narrator is equally competent, although I wish he could have distinguished the two protagonists better - they kept blurring together in my mind.
I learned a lot from this course, although parts of it are more valuable than others. The best sections are those which give advice on meditation practice and how to overcome the difficulties that challenge the beginner. The lecturer has lots of useful, practical ideas that are very helpful. I found the later sections where he spends a great deal of time moralizing in a rather banal way to be less interesting, although here and there I found nuggets of thought-provoking ideas about how mindfulness can help us live our lives better - the chapter on accepting mortality is particularly good.
The lecturer speaks WAY too slowly and has a slightly condescending tone, as if he is explaining the subject to a small kitten. However, I found that if I played him at 2x speed he sounded like a normal human being and was perfectly listenable.
I didn't finish this one. I was expecting some fireworks.from Branagh's Richard but his performance feels rushed, muted, and undefined, with little to hold the interest.
The sound quality is poor and I think this may be a recording of a stage production, because parts of it are baffling - in particular, there is a loud tapping sound throughout the opening speech that makes no sense without visuals (is it maybe Richard's walking stick? no idea, but it's really irritating).
Maybe it gets better later on, but I couldn't summon the energy to find out. A misfire.
This is a perfectly decent recording of The Tempest. Sir Ian is an excellent Prospero and the rest of the cast are competent, although the Caliban is a bit awkward, The sound quality is a little murky sometimes.
This is a fun production of "Much Ado", with some lively and enjoyably performances, especially from Tennant and Spiro as Beatrice and Benedick. The text is cut a bit, but not to an extent that it will disturb non-purists.
This is a competent performance of Pericles that never becomes anything more interesting than that. The actors all seem to know what they're doing, but don't seem especially excited to be doing it.
The text is cut fairly heavily and occasionally rearranged, so avoid this recording if you're an extreme purist.
There is an range of accents on display (Gower is Caribbean, the Tharsians are African, Pericles is Scottish, etc.) which is cool, but some of them take some getting used to.
The sound ambience is a little odd; in some of the scenes the characters sound like they're talking inside tiny little rooms, which doesn't really gel with the play's epic scope.
In summary, it's fine, and - let's face it - recordings of Pericles are hard to find, so beggars can't be choosers.
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