Audiobook Review: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

27 09 2013

Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien

Read by Christina Moore

Recorded Books

Length: 5 Hrs 59 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: The classic Young Adult Post Apocalyptic tale holds up well since my initial reading over 30 years ago. There is a reason this novel is a classic, and it’s themes of overcoming misogyny, the destructiveness of science, and individualism still has value for today.

Grade: B+

Note: If you have yet to read this novel, This review may contain some spoilers. BE WARNED!

When I was in elementary school at good old Christ Home Christian School, I remember the bookcase. The bookcase was a shelf of donated books that the kids in the lower grades could sign out and read on their own volition purely for entertainment sake. Growing up in a fundamentalist household, church and school, this was the first time I felt like I could choose my own entertainment. Of course, it never entered my brain the books here where highly vetted acceptable books, just that I could choose them. Through this shelf I had my first boyhood crush on Laura Ingalls Wilder, went on my first otherworld adventures in Narnia, Oz and on the Phantom Tollbooth, and traveled with some strange characters across the Atlantic in the belly of a giant peach. I was also introduced to some rather amusing rats trying to escape from the National Institute of Mental Health. Every once in a while, new books would be added to the bookshelves. One day, a book titled Z for Zachariah by the same author as the NIMH books was added to the shelves. Since the Rats of NIMH was one of my favorites, I just knew I had to read this book. Little did I know that this would be my first foray into the subgenre known as Post Apocalyptic fiction, which would one day become my literary obsession. So, for those of you out there disturbed by my fascination with the end of civilization, you very well may have a bunch of talking rats to blame for it.

Z for Zachariah is the tale of Ann Burden a teenage farm girl from a small town, who due to a geological anomaly finds herself the last resident of a valley that offers protection from the radioactive fallout of a global nuclear war. She lives day to day, supporting herself through hard work, longing for the company of other human beings yet fearing the dangers others may bring. When a strange man wearing a protective suit shows up, her world is forever altered. While not in any way the first Post Apocalyptic novel, for many of my generation, Z for Zachariah was the introduction to the genre and can be listed as a classic example and predecessor to books like The Hunger Games and other modern YA dystopian. It’s also a darkly fascinating tale of claustrophobia and loneliness battling hope in the midst of the fall of humanity.

The main theme of the novel, both as a young elementary student, and now a much older, bordering on middle aged man, is just how stupid men can be. Ann Borden is young and naive sure, and can be frustrating but she is a strong character, full of the right mix of knowledge to survivor the apocalypse. When Mr. Loomis shows up, you can’t help but think he’s hit the jackpot, a young farmer girl who can run the tractor, cook, fix engines and grow crops, plus well, let’s face it, if you believe you are the last man on earth, finding a smart, resourceful 16 year old woman is reason to celebrate. Yet, the chemist, Mr. Loomis, who never had to worry about where his next meal came from before the apocalypse, decides that this young women isn’t his ally in survival, but his property, and not much more valuable than breeding stock. I remember, the younger Bob being flabbergasted by this. Remember, I grew up in a culture where women were encouraged to call their husbands "Lord and Master" and even I found Mr. Loomis to be a stupid misogynistic dillweed before I even understood what the concept of misogyny was. Rereading it now, and understanding things I didn’t as a kid, including the near rape scene, only cemented my belief the Mr. Loomis is not only one of the most despicable characters in literary history, but one of the stupidest.

This is not in anyway to say that Z for Zachariah is a bad novel. I am focusing on the area that stuck out most to me. In reality, Z for Zachariah should be applauded for creating a wonderful strong female character in Ann Burden, who despite her naiveté, displayed true strength in a devastating world. I know if I was to find myself in similar circumstances of this young girl, I would be dead within weeks. O’Brien’s use of the diary format gives us a very limited perception on the story, yet also adds lots of depths to the tale by showing us Ann’s thought processes, and the evolution of her understanding of Loomis. In many ways, this style allows us to see the process of her maturation, from the girl hiding in a cave but dreaming of marrying the mysterious stranger, to the girl who finally bests the highly educated scientist. There is a reason why Z for Zachariah is a classic of the genre. It’s a wonderfully plotted tale that taps into the essential issues of a post apocalyptic world, highlighting the evolving moralities of the changed world. 

While the audio production is solid, it also displays one of the problems with the format. Christina Moore reads the first person tale with a sort of stunned coldness at first, morphing eventually into something harder. While this is appropriate for the character, it doesn’t make for the most entertaining of listens. Moore often uses a flat affect to show how much Ann is affected by the world, muting her emotions. This makes some scenes more powerful at the end of the novel, when Ann’s emotions finally shows through, but it also at times gives the book an almost dreamlike flow that creates a barrier between the listener and the tale. Overall, I think Moore gives the right performance which brings out the author’s intent but, this doesn’t always keep the reader entranced as a more emotive performance would have.

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Audiobook Review: Breakers by Edward W. Robertson

30 08 2013

Breakers by Edward W. Robertson

Read by Ray Chase

Podium Publishing

Length: 12 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Edward W. Robertson’s Breakers is a mish mash of classic Post Apocalyptic tales, blending a world ending pandemic and an alien invasion together to make a novel that fans of the subgenre will delight in. If you love books that embrace their comparisons to The Stand, and you love watching humans with nothing left to lose kill crab-like alien invaders with laser guns, well, get yourself a copy of Breakers post haste.

Grade: B+

(Breakers is scheduled for release September 5th, 2013. Preorder Today)

Space travel is not easy. We here on this lovely planet we call Earth have seen this. We have sent men to the moon, and rovers to Mars. We have sent probes deep into our solar system, and hopefully beyond. Yet, we have suffered catastrophes, set backs and the loss of public faith. Many people question whether it’s worth our time and money to head out into the darkness of space when we have people starving on our own planet. So, any species that can overcome these technical, social and financial burdens to actually create a mothership and sent it millions of light years across the vastness of space in order to destroy humanity and occupy earth would have to be a highly advanced species. It’s pretty much a given that any such aliens would assuredly kick our sorry asses. So, why is there so much alien invasion fiction? How can you create any tension when the balance of power is so great? This is handled by fictions writer’s greatest tool… the BUT…. In Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series, The Race, the invading reptilian species, came to Earth during World War 2 with overwhelming force and advanced technology ready to defeat the barbarians and take over the planet BUT… they were in such a state of cultural stagnation with an inability to adapt that they were surprised to find the Earth had progressed significantly from the probes they had sent back in the 12th Century. In Larry Niven’s Footfall the elephantine Fitph traveled from Alpha Centauri intent on taking over earth BUT… their advanced technology was not their own but inherited from a former species that viewed them almost as pets. And don’t forget the alien invaders in Independence Day who were ready to lay the smack down on earth, BUT… for some reasoned designed their computer system to be compatible with Earths, and forgot to update their Norton Antivirus. Luckily for Earth, most of these species, whether they be Lizards wearing human skins, or slug creatures who bond with human hosts, always came with at least one BUT… that us pesky humans will always figure out how to exploit.

When a mysterious plague hit the earth, spreading like wildfire through the populace, Walt Lawson is devastated by the loss of his girlfriend. Now, on the verge of suicide, Walt decides to walk from New York City to Los Angeles, the city his actress girlfriend Vanessa dreamed of moving to, fully expecting to die along the way. Meanwhile, in California, Raymond James and his wife Mia, find their financial struggles are over when the majority of the world dies. They set up a haven in an idyllic home on the coast, finding happiness in their simple life. Yet, when the alien mothership appears in the horizon, and the crab like occupants begin killing or rounding up humans, the survivors find a new purpose, fighting the menace that has devastated their planet. Edward W. Robertson’s Breakers is a mish mash of classic Post Apocalyptic tales, blending a world ending pandemic and an alien invasion together to make a novel that fans of the subgenre will delight in. Instead of avoiding seeming like a retread of novels like The Stand and Footfall, Robertson embraces this, as he very well should. The Stand is a great novel which has helped create a generation of Post Apocalyptic fans, and I am often flabbergasted how some authors go out of their way to avoid looking like a copycat of it. I found Robertson’s characterizations very interesting. I started off pretty much hating both Walt and Ray. To me, they seem like two sides of the same loser coin. In many ways they were like mirror images of the other, with Ray being kind but stupid loser and Walt being a manipulative and brash loser. Yet both characters, especially Walt, grew on me. Walt’s slide into self hate may have made him the perfect survivor for the times, and by the time the book hit the alien invasion part, he was responsible for some of the most laugh out loud funny moments, despite his dark personality. The plot and action was fun, bordering on cheesy. While the guerilla tactics to fight the aliens often lacked descriptive depth, the plot moved along quickly and never left you bored. My only major complaint was I would have liked to seen a bit more diversity in the character types and greater depth in the peripheral characters, and since this is the first in a series I expect my wish will come true. The novel built up to a finale that was equal parts “that’s the corniest thing ever” and “holy hell, this is awesome.” If you’re looking for some hoity toity new exploration that defies apocalyptic tropes to create a new approach to the genre, keep looking. But, if you love books that embrace their comparison to The Stand, and love watching humans with nothing left to lose kill alien invaders with laser guns, well, get yourself a copy of Breakers post haste.

In the early part of the novel, I struggled a bit differentiating Walt from Ray. While I liked Ray Chase’s voice, the voices between these two characters were very similar, and caused some early dissonance. Luckily, once things got rolling and the author began to flesh out these characters, and they began to transform into what they would become by the end of the book, this no longer became an issue.  Once this issue was resolved I was more than happy to fall into the capable voice of Ray Chase. He has a deep voice, bordering on gruff, but softens it with a rhythmic style that is reminiscent of Scott Brick. His reading style added levels to the prose that I feel elevated it, giving Walt’s journey across a devastated America an almost stream of consciences feel, and Ray and Mia’s time in their dream home an overwhelming sense of contentment.  This was my first time listening to Ray Chase, and I really liked him. I think some of the struggles he had with some of the characterizations came more from the fact that some of the characters were a bit cardboard, but he did what he could to bring them to life. When the author gave a character depth, you could feel it in the narrator’s performance. Based on this performance, Ray Chase is a narrator to be on the lookout for. Hopefully, we will see more audio versions of this series, with Chase acting as our guide in the fight against the alien crab things.

Thanks to Podium Publish for proving me with a copy of the title for review.

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” theme. Click on the image below for links to more posts.





Audiobook Review: The Darwin Elevator by Jason M. Hough

2 08 2013

The Darwin Elevator (Dire Earth Cycle, Bk. 1) by Jason M. Hough

Read by Simon Vance

Random House Audio

Length: 14 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Darwin Elevator is Leviathan Wakes meets A Mote in God’s Eye, a rip roaring science fiction adventure with some mysterious alien machinations. Hough creates a complex but intriguing Post Apocalyptic world, and fills it with some truly engaging morally complex characters. The Darwin Elevator is easily my favorite science fiction debut of the year.

Grade: A-

In his infamous 1987 speech to the United Nations, Ronald Reagan discussed how we as a planet would put aside out nationalistic and other petty differences and come together if faced with an alien threat from outside. I’m not sure he was so right. One of the popular themes of post apocalyptic fiction is humanity’s ability to adapt. This is typically portrayed in a positive way, with a plucky group of survivors overcoming world changing events to find a new way to live. Yet, when it comes to adaptation, it’s not just the positive traits that we will take into a whole new world. Humanity has an almost natural ability to ostracize and stigmatize those who are different, whether those differences are physical, emotional, or simply geographical. When natural differences don’t exist, we will find new ways to categorize and label people. We will seek out the ways OTHERS are different from us, even if it’s just the fact that they are others. Classism will still rise. Some people will have more rocks in their garden than their neighbor, and try to use those rocks to gain greater status in the community. Even with a looming alien threat, we would find ways to separate and label each other. In Jason M. Hough’s debut The Darwin Elevator, he creates an interesting arbitrary class structure between “orbitals” those who live in the orbital platforms above the alien build space elevator, and those down below, in the slums and habitats of Darwin. While the Orbitals are pristine and clean, in both mind and body, the citizens of Darwin are a dirty, disgruntled lot full of refugees, religious cultists, and power hungry guards. This separation contributes greatly to the novel, and creates a fascinating background for this action filled novel.

The Darwin Elevator is Leviathan Wakes meets A Mote in God’s Eye, a rip roaring science fiction adventure with some mysterious alien machinations. Taking place in the 24th century Australian City Darwin, the only city immune to an alien plague due to the aura surrounding the space elevator built up by the unseen alien visitors, Hough capably incorporates a post apocalyptic social experiment with some fast paced action creating one of the best science fiction debuts of the year. I knew very little about The Darwin Elevator going in beyond it being a post apocalyptic science fiction novel about an alien plague, so I was a bit surprised to discover that there were… let’s not say zombies, but plague afflicted regressed humans who give into the basest needs and attack non afflicted humans in swarms. Not Zombies… but close enough. As a huge zombie fan, I was delighted by this, and in a way, happy I didn’t know, because in reality, The Darwin Elevator, like the afore mentioned Leviathan Wake, isn’t a Zombie novel, it’s a science fiction adventure novel that just happens to have some kick ass scenes involving zombie-like humanoids. I’ll take that. Yet, the heart of the novel is how humans adapt to change, and how these changes separate them and what it takes to bring them together again. The main character, Skyler heads a team of scavengers, the only team made up fully of those immune from the plague. Due to this ability, Skyler and his team are able to go to places other teams can’t and them on the radar of the Orbital Industrialist and his key scientist, who taps them to help them figure out what is the next step in the alien builder plans. I love the world that Hough has created, the juxtaposition between the two emerging cultures, yet I felt this novel just barely skimmed the surface of its potential. Hough makes a lot of illusions to religious cults, and other groups among the citizenry of Darwin, yet, much of that takes a back seat to the political maneuverings of the factions in the Orbitals. While this probably served the story better I’d love to get down in the grime of the city and learn more about its operation. There is definitely an old school science fiction vibe to The Darwin Elevator, with a well conceived blend of strange technology and engaging, morally complex characters. The ending opens so many possible doors, although there may have been a few too many open ended plot points left in the mix. This open ended conclusion of the novel would have been much more frustrating to me if I had to wait a year for the next edition, but luckily for us, there will be two more books in the series released over the next two months.  The Darwin Elevator is easily my favorite debut science fiction novel of the year, and I shudder in anticipation to see where the series will be heading next.

Simon Vance is one of the best voices in the business, and applies his skills to The Darwin Elevator. You pretty much know what you are going to get with a Vance narration, vivid characters and well paced action all delivered with a storyteller’s flair. I really enjoyed the authenticity Vance gave to the international cast. He never shirks away from a trying accent, or odd mannerism, instead embraces them. The Darwin Elevator takes place in Australia, yet is full of characters from across the globe. The main character, Skyler Luiken, is a Dutch pilot who really comes to life under Vance’s touch. There are many narrators who can do accents, but very few make them feel as natural as Vance does. This may have been the most action packed novel I have heard Vance narrate, and he constantly pushed the pace, adding tension, knowing just when to slow things down to give the listener time to reflect on a big reveal, or new development, The Darwin Elevator is a book the translates wonderfully to audio, and I’m very happy that Vance will once again be in the narrator chair for book 2, The Exodus Tower.

Thanks to Random House Audio for providing a copy of this title for review.

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. Click on the banner below for more posts.





Audiobook Review: Goslings by J.D. Beresford

12 07 2013

Goslings by J. D. Beresford

Read by Matthew Brenher

Dreamscape Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 12 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic

Quick Thoughts: Goslings is a fascinating, if somewhat scattershot, exploration of gender roles and collectivism in post plague England. Beresford explores many social issues in his look at the necessary rise of a British matriarchy. The plot is a bit unfocused, moving characters around as a means to explore his themes, more than creating a self contained story, yet, it still manages to be quite interesting.

Grade: B

I have to admit, despite the hours and hours upon hours I spend researching Post Apocalyptic fiction I had never heard of Goslings before it showed up on Dreamscape Audios catalogue. Shocked that a book featuring a worldwide pandemic that wiped out the majority of the world’s male population would somehow escape my notice, I had to grab it post haste. Goslings is perfect novel to rekick off my Welcome to the Apocalypse feature, because one of my goals with the feature is to examine classic Post Apocalyptic novels, since it seems Audible and other producers seems to be putting them out in as fast as they can secure the rights. I was fascinated by the concepts behind Goslings because, it examines the roles of the sexes, yet being written in 1935 is also a child of it’s time. One of my issues with older fiction is I have trouble determining what is satire and what is actually  just a product of the era it was written in. For example, I always was uncomfortable with the relationship between the main character and his African American neighbors in Alas, Babylon. Yet, for the 1950’s, it was actually quite progressive. What made it harder for Goslings, is I believe much of the book is satirical. Goslings was probably quite progressive in 1935, yet the language and concepts just drip with misogyny. Gosling’s younger daughters are painted as frivolous, because they like shopping and fashion, yet when one proves to be logical she is described as having masculine qualities. Yet, conversely, one character talks about how business men prey on women by manipulating fashion so they must buy the newest, hippest thing each season, then goes on to examine his own foppish nature. There are obvious satirical elements, it was just hart to pull them out of \the pervasive mentality of the 19030’s.

In Gosling’s a plague has ravished the world, killing off the majority of men, and now the women must find a way to survive on their own. When Mr. Gosling, one of the few men immune to the disease, finds greener pastures, he leaves his troublesome wife and daughters to fend for themselves. Not prepared for the changed world, they set out in search for a safe place and discover a collective community where women, along with one strange man, work together to find a way in the new world. Goslings is a fascinating, if somewhat scattershot, exploration of gender roles and collectivism in post plague England. Beresford explores many social issues in his look at the necessary rise of a British matriarchy. The plot is a bit unfocused, moving characters around as a means to explore his themes, more than creating a self contained story, yet, it still manages to be quite interesting. There is a lot of humor in the tale, particularly at the start with surly Mr. Gosling, and his relationship with his women. Mr. Gosling is a bit of a prat, shocked at the idea that his women could ever survive without the help of a man. Yet, when the end comes, he leaves his troublesome ladies because they won’t risk their lives to head out and find him tobacco. While the set up is seems to be about gender roles, I think Beresford’s true goal is the exploring the ability of humankind to better themselves through social collectivism and fixing the mistakes of the past. While he explores interesting gender issues, the mentality of his time bleeds in. The most successful communities of women, all surround a particularly skilled male, who can direct them. In the Gosling daughter’s community, the main male is a resourceful gentleman who isn’t interested in sex. He encourages the females by explaining that they need to act like men now. It often feels like Beresford is saying that women can do just fine without men, as long as the put behind girly things like flirting, clothes and religion. He seems to believe that women may be better stewards of humanity because their malleable nature is more open to change and collectivism. Luckily, the overall story is quite fun, and while the ending seemed a bit too easy, I enjoyed the experience. Gosling’s is a fun little book, with an interesting post apocalyptic setup and some intriguing and often goofy characters along the way.

I was actually a bit surprised that Matthew Brenher, a male, was cast to read this novel where most of the males die. Yet, Brenher may have been the perfect choice for Goslings. He reads the book as if it was a true satire, capturing the often absurd moments with a tongue in cheek smirk that seemed to say, “Ah… these people. Can you believe them?” He actually was quite skilled at female voices, creating a slew of believable female characters of all ages. Despite the dated language, he gave the book a modern accessible feel the is often lacking in audio versions of older books. He had a crisp, sure reading style that made the book a lot of fun to listen to. While the book itself was a bit all over the place, Brenher’s reading never was, and his performance made any problems with the overall book seem trivial.

Thanks to Dreamscape Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. Click on the banner below for more posts.





My Top 10 Post Apocalyptic and Dystopian Audiobooks of 2012 (Non-Zombie)

4 01 2013

2012 has been another great year for Post Apocalyptic Fiction. I think, not since the release of The Road, has this subgenre received this much critical acceptance. With Post Apocalyptic titles topping Best of Lists, classics of the genre finally being released as audiobooks and the surge of independently produced Audiobooks, the number of Post Apocalyptic audiobooks choices can be staggering. In 2012, I listened to 43 audiobooks that could be classified as Post Apocalyptic or Dystopian not including titles dealing with Zombies. Of that number, 40 of them were produced in 2012 as audiobooks. Narrowing down my list was brutal. To make things a bit easier, I attempted to stick with books that you could just sit down and grab without having read others in the series. While a few of these books were released in print for before 2012, they all were produced as audiobooks this year.

Click on the Cover Images for my original review.

 

A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren

Read by Gabra Zackman

Audible Frontiers

Type of Apocalypse: Nuclear War

A Gift upon the Shore is one of my all time favorite novels which was finally brought to audiobook format from Audible. Experiencing this novel again, with the wonderful narration by Gabra Zackman, was one of the most emotional and memorable moments in 2012.

The Stand by Stephen King

Read by Grover Gardner

Random House Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Pandemic

The Stand is my favorite novel of all time, and everytime I read it I feel like I’m returning home. Grover Gardner brings these characters that feel like family to me, alive in perfect detail. For me Grover, and not Molly Ringwold, will always be Franny. The only reason this is in the #2 spot, was that I have read this novel so many times that experiencing it again didn’t have as much of an emotional impact on me as A Gift Upon the Shore.

White Horse by Alex Adams

Read by Emily Durante

Blackstone Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Pandemic

White Horse was one of the more unique and creepy Post Apocalyptic novels I have read in a long, long time. White Horse is written with a literary flair, yet full of disturbing images and a compelling main character.

Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey

Read by Minnie Goode

Broad Reach Publishing

Type of Apocalypse: Unspecified, possibly Chemical/Biological/Environmental

Wool was one of a handful of ACX, independently produced audiobooks that found its way onto my MP3 and into my brain, and I am quite glad it did. A near future apocalypse about people who live inside an underground bunker, protected from the toxic air outside. The world Howey creates is vivid and troubling, just the way a Post Apocalyptic world should be.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Read by Fiona Hardingham

Blackstone Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Infertility/Dystopia

The Testament of Jessie Lamb often left me troubled and disturbed. With it’s frustrating main character and complicated issues, even now I’m not totally sure what I think about the scenarios found within this novel. Yet, that I’m still thinking and struggling with it says something about this novel. Also, the narration is pitch perfect.

Partials by Dan Wells

Read by Julia Whelan

Harper Audio

I was a bit surprised that this was the only Young Adult title to make this list. Partials is just the kind of science fiction based Apocalyptic novel that I love. Full of complicated characters, dark imagery and tons of adventure, Partials is the start of a series you should watch out for.

Exogene by TC McCarthy (The Subterene Trilogy, Book 2)

Read by Bahni Turpin

Blackstone Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Conventional/Limited Nuclear War/Dystopian

While Exogene is the second novel in TC McCarthy’s Subterrene War series, it is a novel you can pick up without having read the first novel in the series. McCarthy has created one of the most visceral worlds blending Apocalyptic and Dystopian elements together into a subgenre all its own.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Read by Mark Deakins

Random House Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Pandemic

The Dog Stars is a melancholy look as social isolation and the need for interaction during the apocalypse, Told in a breezy, almost poetic style The Dog Stars is less about the action of survivor than the ability to mentally cope with the changed world.

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Type of Apocalypse: Pre-Apocalypse/Asteroid Strike

The Last Policeman is a unique blending of noir detective novels and apocalyptic fiction. With Earth about to be struck by a world killing asteroid, who cares about one murder within the chaos of social upheaval and mass suicides. Winter’s approach breathes fresh air into both subgenres.

Immobility by Brian Evenson

Read by Mauro Hantman

AudioGo

Type of Apocalypse: Nuclear War

I went back and forth on my final entry into this list, but ended up choosing Immobility for one reason, it’s world shifty gut punch of an ending. While the road to the ending isn’t always smooth, it’s full of beautiful dark imagery, flawed characters and intriguing scenarios.





Audiobook Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

7 12 2012

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Read by Fiona Hardingham

Blackstone Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 15 Min’

Genre: Dystopian

Quick Thoughts: I think Jane Rogers achieved what she set out to do, she made me think, forced me into a struggle between my intellectual and emotional side, and entertained me as well. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a novel that I believe worked on two levels, it’s a fascinating work of speculative fiction, as well as a truly effective thought experiment.

Grade: A-

Back when I was in college I took a class with my favorite professor called, “Women in Politics.” At this point in my life, I was still holding on to many of the beliefs that my upbringing in a very conservative church had taught me. In one of the first classes we discussed coverture and how woman were viewed as property even within English Common law. We leaned that “The Rule of Thumb” was believed by some to be a reference to a legal ruling where a judge said it was illegal to beat your wife with a stitch thicker than the size of your thumb. This class was a real turning point in my development, particular on gender issues. Before this, I grew up in a church where our Pastor’s wife bragged about calling her husband “Lord and Master” and women were told they could not divorce their husbands, even if they were abusive. This year there has been a lot of talk about the “War on Women.” While I have no sympathy for men who talk about legitimate rape and attempt to legislate women health issues without bothering to be informed, I understand where these things come from. I remember being at a Christian music festival, where a Pro-Life speaker explained that when a woman is raped, her body is flooded with so many hormones that pregnancy is nearly impossible. I am sure plenty of people left that speech believing this, and for me, I had to actually research the issue to discover its fallacy. I strive to have an open mind on issues, but I learn one fact pretty early. I am a man, and no matter how much I understand Women’s issues intellectually, I will never understand them emotionally. I think much of my open-mindedness comes from the fact that I was a reader. I read books like The Handmaid’s Tale, and A Gift Upon the Shore that allowed me to gain some level of emotional awareness of these issues that lead to me questioning much of what I was taught. Sometimes, I  feel if it wasn’t for books, I may not have been able to escape from the trappings of misogyny that was so prevalent in my youth.

When a virus is released causing pregnancy to become a death sentence for woman, society is sent into turmoil. With the potential of being the final generation, young adults rebel against the adult society that brought war, environmental disasters and the gradual extinction of the human race. Within the chaos, one young woman is searching for some way she can make a difference. As she attempts to find her place amongst different movements, she finally figures a way she can help. Yet, this decision may require the ultimate sacrifice. The Testament of Jess Lamb is a frustrating, emotional and brilliant thought experiment that caused me to strip down my responses to many different issues, and reevaluate them in the light of the tale. In order to give a proper appraisal of this novel, I have to look at it from two different vantage points, one as a piece of speculative fiction, and the other as a social commentary. The Testament of Jesse Lamb is the sort of slow boil apocalypse that are becoming prevalent within the genre. Instead of one big bang, the apocalypse comes more gradually. The novel is an intimate look at the slow breakdown of society through the eyes of one young girl. While I loved this world Rogers’ created, and found it quite fascinating, filtering it through one character makes the experience limiting. I would have loved to see a broader look at this world, but I don’t think it would have worked as well within the requirements of this story. As a piece of social commentary, I have to admit, I struggled, but I think in a good way. Jessie Lamb was a frustrating character for me. I think if I had read this novel when I was younger I would have seen her as a noble character, perhaps even heroic. Yet, today I couldn’t help by find her a bit foolish. What I found interesting was the juxtaposition between the movements she became involved with, Animal rights, Feminism, and Scientific with the thought process she used to come to her decisions. One of my favorite aspects of the novel is it really highlighted just how people talk to each others. The way Jesse came to her decisions seemed almost parallel to religious enlightenment, yet, her father, and others tried to dissuade her using almost a cold scientific reasoning that, when seen through her internal dialogue, came off quite patronizing. Despite my frustration with her, I liked Jessie Lamb as a character, which just made it harder to accept what she was doing. Yet, I was very uncomfortable in my reactions, wondering if my distaste for her choice was due to some lingering misogyny or even a patronizing view of youth. I think Jane Rogers achieved what she set out to do, she made me think, forced me into a struggle between my intellectual and emotional side, and entertained me as well. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a novel that I believe worked on two levels, it’s a fascinating work of speculative fiction, as well as a truly effective thought experiment.

This is my second experience with Fiona Hardingham as a narrator and the first experience didn’t go so well, yet not due to any problem with her narration. This was why I was happy to see that she was handling the narration of this audiobook. Hardingham gives a wonderful performance, worthy of the novel. The novel is told from the first person perspective of Jesse and Hardingham managed to find the right balance between innocent naiveté and gravitas that was appropriate for the character. It was great to hear her transition from almost a flighty teenager, wondering if she should dye her hair, or if the boy she likes liked her back, to a young adult contemplating her place amongst a dying species. Hardingham made me feel connected with not just the main character, but many of the peripheral characters as well. Her characterizations were subtle but distinct, and she did a great job in differentiating between Jesse’s internal and external dialogue, which was a key element for this story. Overall, The Testament of Jessie Lamb was a thought provoking novel that is enhanced by the excellent performance of the narrator.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. To find more posts, click on the banner below.





Audiobook Review: The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

30 11 2012

The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

Read by Ben Rameaka

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Long Tomorrow is a novel that will make you think, without ever forcing what you should think onto you. It’s an interesting blending of neo-luddite science fiction and a coming of age tale that fans of Post Apocalyptic novels should definitely have in their library. While it can be dated at times, it contains many issues that are relevant to our era, which are still being explored in modern Apocalyptic fiction.

Grade: B+

As the temperature begins to drop, and jolly fat men with bells replace Cheerleaders and Girls Scouts standing outside of retail establishments asking for your money, you know the year is coming to an end. 2012 was a great year for fans of classic post apocalyptic audiobooks. We saw the release of one of the all time classics, Stephen King’s The Stand released in its fully unabridged glory, as well as some of my all time favorites, like When Planets Collide, and MK Wren’s beautiful and heart wrenching post nuclear classic, A Gift Upon the Shore. While I was quite aware of the impending release of The Stand, many of Audible Frontier’s Post Apocalyptic novels came as a pleasant surprise to me. A few weeks ago, another surprise Post Apocalyptic favorite of mine appeared on the digital Audiobook shelves of Audible, Leigh Bracket’s The Long Tomorrow. The Long Tomorrow was first released in print in 1956, just as the Cold War, and the politics of mutually assured destruction were beginning to cement itself in our culture. I read The Long Tomorrow about 20 years ago and it was the first novel I remember that explored a post nuclear neo-luddite society. In Brackett’s vision, the cities are destroyed by Nuclear War, changing the balance of society to one favoring rural groups used to supporting themselves. Religions form, many based on Mennonite philosophies, which teach that God destroyed the cities and any attempts to revive technology was an affront to god. The government passed laws limiting technology, the size of settlements and regulating trade to prevent central hubs which eventually morph into population centers. People who embrace technology are banished or worst.  Then, Brackett places within this society, two young boys, fascinated by stories of the past, with natural curiosities that could get them killed.

Len and Esau Coulter, two young boys being raised in the New Mennonite Church, just wanted a bit of excitement. They slip away one night to see the radical preacher and his congregation, who have been known to speak in tongues and roll around on the ground. Yet, when a man is accused of being from the mysterious Barterstown, a supposed city of technology, he is stoned in front of the two boys. Rescued by a kindly trader, the boys find a small box, they believe to be the radio their grandmother had spoken of. When caught with the technology, and some hidden books, and severely beaten by their fathers, the two boys run away, in search of Barterstown and knowledge. When I first read The Long Tomorrow, I was fascinated by the world Brackett had created. The Long Tomorrow was one of the first Post Apocalyptic novels I had read, and since then, I have read hundreds more. So, I was pleased that many aspects of the novel still stood out. While definitely dated, many of the issues Brackett tackled are still relevant to today, and are still being explored in Post Apocalyptic fiction. The story itself has a very cyclical nature. The progression of Len and Essau often reflect the progression of the world they inhabit. Although they are in a search for knowledge, they are also products of their environment, with the ingrained mistrust of technology. This leads to some interesting situations as the two boys attempt to find a place within two divergent worldviews, neither of which they are comfortable with. Brackett did a wonderful job with these characters, providing an outsiders view to key moments in the world’s development. It’s definitely a coming of age tale, particularly for the main perspective character, Len. I think if The Long Tomorrow was written today, it could easily be marketed as a young adult novel. The novel itself never attempts to force feed you any sort of ideology. It handles many interesting ideas, like Xenophobia, religious intolerance, blind acceptance of the status quo, understanding your history so as not to repeat it, and nuclear paranoia, in a manner that leaves it up to the reader to figure out where their morality and ideology fits in a vast spectrum. My only real issue with the novels is it’s technology, particularly in regards to computers and processing is almost laughably dated, but for a novel written in the mid-1950’s this is no surprise. The Long Tomorrow is a novel that will make you think, without ever forcing what you should think onto you. It’s an interesting blending of neo-luddite science fiction and a coming of age tale that fans of Post Apocalyptic novels should definitely have in their library. While it can be dated at times, it contains many issues that are relevant to our era, which are still being explored in modern Apocalyptic fiction.

I really enjoyed Ben Rameaka’s reading of The Long Tomorrow. Nothing he did really blew me away, he just gave a straight forward reading, with strong characterization. He did a good job giving Len and Essau young voices, without making them sound like annoying petulant teenagers, even when they were acting like annoying petulant teenagers. Rameaka reads the story with a nice, modern tone, that smoothed over the dated feel of some of the parts of the novel. At first I struggled with some of his female characterizations, but as the novel progressed these definitely improved.  I don’t think he reading will stand out as one of the great performances of the year, but it was solid, and he did his job. The Long Tomorrow plays out nicely in audio form, and I highly recommend it to people who love classic Post Apocalyptic science fiction.

Note: This review is part of my weekly Welcome to the Apocalypse series. Click on the banner below for more posts.