I've never read a print version of this book, but I can safely say that the narration made this book come to life in a way not possible in print.
Most of the characters either weren't very likeable or not developed enough to truly appreciate them. The main character had my sympathies, and by the end of the book I was rooting for him, but I'm not sure how much I actually liked the guy. My favorite characters were probably Sol(omon) and Ms. Rob, as they both seemed quite interesting and very likeable, but they weren't developed enough to know them as much as I would have liked.
He was incredibly engaging. As with all narrators, there is the obligatory random distraction of wondering about their voice, accent and inflections, pronunciations, and pauses. Having the knowledge that the narrator was also a co-author, it was easy just to relax into the idea that you were listening in on the true inner-monologue and speaking cadence of the main character, allowing you to just accept the voice quirks and listen to the story.
I had a very extreme reaction to this book. First, I have to say this is the best first chapter of a book I have ever read. Dickens may have written the best first line in a book, but Spider Robinson's verbal delivery of the first chapter had me nailed to my spot and weeping. Do not take to heart any comments about his singing voice until you have actually heard it for yourself. I can only assume there is something about his voice that you will either love or hate. I am mystified by other reviews picking at his voice and trashing his singing. I found the lyrics and their delivery haunting.
Also, this book has convinced me that I have to read another Spider Robinson novel immediately. I have never even heard of the guy until I bought this audiobook, and now I anticipate he will be another favorite.
Do not take any reviews to heart until you've read the first chapter or three for yourself.
My reaction to the ending was so strong that I immediately felt the need to add my voice to the other reviews, to let listeners know that "bittersweet" is just not a strong enough word for it. But instead I had to walk away to put the experience out of my mind. A week later, I can see some of the sweet, but at the time, all I could taste was the bitter. It could have been my tears though.
This was my first Arthur C. Clarke book, and my impression from reviews was that it would be a good place to start because it was so vital to the genre, being a bit of a basis for "2001". I can easily admit that this take on First Contact is mind blowing. There is so much here to chew on. And I agree that it is vital, a stunning alternative to the First Contact models shown by E.T. (aliens are cool and humans are mean), Star Trek (aliens are generally benevolent and interesting), Contact (aliens are benevolent and aloof - much like this book but without the Big Reveal ending), or Independence Day (aliens are evil warmongers who make us look good). Then again, I haven't read the book 2001, just seen the movie.
Still, I can't put behind me those tears as humanity finally learned the details of its impending future. The final chapters were just pouring salt on the wound after that. Keep in mind that when a book makes me cry, it's only ever because of a great character dying, never just because of plot development. Until now.
It's just going to sound like an afterthought after all that, but the other issues I had with the book were how dated it was. In technological examples, it was great, right up there with Heinlein. But where Heinlein's take on human sociology can be somewhat dated and with a bit too much testosterone, Clarke comes off as... naive. With some subtle racism to go with it.
Or at least I thought the racism was subtle. If you Google "Arthur C. Clarke racism", this book dominates the first page of results, with mentions of "Reunion" and "Cradle". You may or may not be aware of the race-relations concept of "colonialism", but if you read the paper titled "The Overlord's Burden", an excellent case is made about the book and the mindset of Clarke himself.
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