Ian Watson: Slow Birds
Read by Jim Bond
Infinivox, 72 minutes
A review by Steven H Silver
Generally, I don't listen to books on tape. My commute to work is short, so it would take close to a month for me to make it through an unabridged book and abridged books have no interest for me. I was, therefore, intrigued by the new series of SF tapes launched by Infinivox. Rather than issue abridgements of novels, they have decided to provide complete short stories on tape. Unabridged, I can listen to the entire story within a day or two, even with my short drive time.
"Slow Birds," by Ian Watson tells the story of a strangely idyllic world which is plagued by mysterious invaders. Dubbed slow birds, because the cylindrical objects fly at the rate of only a few feet per minute, the artifacts are a complete mystery. Jason Babbidge's life is inexorably changed and linked to the slow birds when his brother, Daniel, climbs aboard a slowbird shortly before it disappears into the unknown. Watson's story deals with Jason's quest for his brother and later the revelation which comes to him as he climbs aboard a slow bird of his own.
Watson spends a great deal of time laying the foundation for the story and for Jason Babbidge's character. Although each of the events follow from what Watson has described, the way Jason's character changes throughout the course of the story is handled very well, leaving the reader stunned.
Infinivox has selected a good story to help launch their line of tapes. Unfortunately Jim Bond, the narrator, does not have particularly clear enunciation. Frequently it is difficult to understand what he is saying. Although Bond's use of various accents to differentiate the characters is nice, the technique is hindered by this non-clarity of speech. Unfortunately, with a book (or story) on tape, it is not as easy to go back and discover what may have been missed as it would be with the printed word.
My first encounter with Infinivox leads me to say that they have a product definitely worth listening to. The compactness of the story permits the listener to hear the entire tape in a short time and Infinivox seems to have made good selections in the stories they have chosen to record.
Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.
Geoffrey A. Landis: A Walk in the Sun|
Read by Amy Bruce
Infinivox, 52 minutes
A review by Steven H Silver
When "A Walk in the Sun" was first published, it received a Hugo Award for Best Short Story (although the cover of the tape proclaims it a Nebula Award Winner. Landis won the Nebula for "Ripples in the Dirac Sea". The back of the package also claims "A Walk in the Sun" won a Nebula, but this is not the case.) In any event, the story told on this tape is of award-winning caliber.
Amy Bruce's voice is pleasant to listen to and she reads the story well. The addition of music, both scored and piano, adds nicely to the tension as Patricia Mulligan tries to survive on the moon following the crash of her cislunar ship and the death of her two comrades. The only technical flaw with the production is the sound levels seem to be set wrong. When Bruce whispers or lowers her voice, she becomes inaudible if the tape is played at a normal volume. Similarly, if the volume is set high enough to hear whispers, the music will be too loud.
Although Landis's story has an intriguing premise -- Mulligan must remain in the area of sunlight on the moon for thirty days, or one lunar revolution, until a rescue ship can reach her -- the solution offered by Landis seems a little far-fetched. Landis also sets up a complex relationship between Mulligan and her dead sister, Karen, who keeps her company on her trek. Although the interludes between Mulligan and Karen seem to be simply memories at first, when Mulligan begins to learn new things about her sister, it is not clear whether she is merely hallucinating or actually holding a conversation with the spirit of her deceased sibling.
All in all, the tape is relatively easy to listen to and the story raises some interesting points. The issues raised in "A Walk in the Sun" are also extremely timely, given the current (at the time of this writing) conditions aboard the Mir space station. It would have been nice if Landis could have included something of an explanation for Mulligan's posthumous conversations or explained the success of her vigil in more realistic, or at least believable terms, but "A Walk in the Sun" is still a story which deserves to be read. Or heard.
Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicago in 2000 and Clavius in 2001. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.
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