I thought that was a very good audiobook, although I'm not too experienced with listening to books. Gould's voice definitely had the correct gritty depth, and once you get used to his fairly limited range and repertoire of vocal characterizations, it work really well. Chandler uses first person, limited point of view narration in the book, so a single narrator really fits the book. It is also unabridged, which appeals me as a reader.
This version is from a BBC radio dramatization by the BBC (no, none of the characters mysteriously acquired British accents). That means there are limited sound effects, and different actors voice the lines of the different characters. I only listened to twenty minutes or so, but I liked it.
Some specifics: one mild negative is that the actor playing Marlowe doesn't really have the right voice. There's no gravel in his throat from endless glasses (not merely shots) of whiskey and countless cigarettes.
Since there's a lot of interior monologue from Marlowe's perspective, the lead actor is switching from speaking lines that others characters are hearing, to voiceover lines that they aren't. Using other voices actually makes that a little trickier, but it worked fairly seamlessly for me; no trouble at all.
But that was the only poor casting choice. The voice of Moose Malloy was a delight; it perfectly matched the physicality of that character. The others I heard in that limited sample were fine, too. The sound effects made the action more accessible, helping to frame the change of scenes in the listener's imagination.
Which of the audiobooks should you listen to (assuming you don't want both, perhaps at different times)?
This version works a bit better at being engaging. Those sound effects and voice changes really help signal a change in scene and keeping characters separated. If you're on a commute or a roadtrip, for example, or in some other distracting environment, it'd probably work better. For the same reasons, it'll work well for those who aren't used to audiobooks, or specifically enjoy the theatrical aspect—there are a lot of good radio plays that have been made that don't get enough attention.
Gould's version, on the other hand, is unabridged and uses precisely one voice, as does the book. So it probably would appeal to someone that really wants the "book" experience. I listened to Gould read the first Marlowe book, The Big Sleep, while on a very long walk around San Francisco on a November evening and it was perfect (well, yeah, a Dashiell Hammett novel might have been better. I'll get to those). The second one I listened too on the couch while suffering from a cold a few weeks later. It worked well as a substitute for a book—when I listened to this radio play, I immediately detected the edits, so I'm confident I got about as much out of Gould's audiobook as I would have from the text.
Well, again, like the first book, there are some elements of historic social injustice reflected uncritically here, and that canWonderful, wonderful!
Well, again, like the first book, there are some elements of historic social injustice reflected uncritically here, and that can be disturbing. But given that complex limitation, the storytelling here otherwise excels.
The most obvious thing we recognize in Chandler is his hard-boiled tough guy narrative, and that deserves the attention. This is definitely part of the hyper-masculine world of John Wayne and Anglo Saxon machismo—the knight errant who never receives or even accepts the benediction of the affection of others. The closest anyone can ever get to a man like this is friendly wise-cracking camaraderie, and that is also portrayed well.
Another aspect, though, is how often Chandler spends time describing the scenery, and clothing. It verges on tedious at times, saved only by the incongruity of a tough guy—someone perceived as a brute—walking into yet another mansion and pondering the elegant architecture and landscape, then meeting someone and focusing so intently on the color and material of fabric, or the many other details that are supposed to be invisible to such an archetypal male gaze.
One difference between Chandler's second novel and the first, The Big Sleep, is that he didn't lose track of any plot threads here. Oh, no one has yet pointed out that one of the murders in the first novel remains unexplained? Well, that doesn't happen here.
The mere fact that the first book could work as wonderfully as it does with such an astonishing oversight points out what makes the Philip Marlowe novels so distinctive: the plot is chaotic, and simply all over the place. In this one, there are several plot threads that are never tied up, and at least three surplus villains. In comparison, all the other tidy drawing-room detective novels—even those that involve copious amounts of violence and far more mayhem than Chandler delivers—feel artificial in comparison. To the extent we understand how detective work must be, clearly there's never going to be complete information, or a settle resolution of any significant number of crimes, at least in the absence of a complete confession (and, given that the vast majority of violent criminals aren't firing on all cylinders, as it were, even a confession might not always provide logical closure).
Chandler delivers something that feels real. Agatha Christie is providing a logic puzzle based on careful observation of details. Fun, but bloodless. Even when blood is spilt, many authors never seem to do chaos correctly.
Oh, yeah, there are plenty that have learned this lesson. Sure—but as far as I know, Chandler did it first, and he did it magnificently.
Oh, I listened to this as an unabridged audiobook narrated by Elliot Gould, who was an admirable choice, having actually played Philip Marlowe on the big screen in 1973. I liked the fact that it was unabridged; I also enjoyed the fact that a single narrator's voice fits the novel well, since it is a first-person narrative (most novels are in the third person). Gould's voice is also deep and nicely gravelly, and fits Marlowe's, even if it seems a bit off for some of the other characters.
I also listened to the first twenty minutes or so of an alternate version, which began existence as a BBC Radio Play. It has multiple voice actors playing the different characters, as well as some sound effects to set the scene, so it is more acoustically interesting, and undoubtedly more "accessible", which might help those that otherwise might not quicken to the moderately complex plot that Chandler lays out. It might also work better as, for example, entertainment on a commute or a road trip, where driving should be taking up some of the listener's cognitive capacity. That version was, however, abridged, so it isn't quite as pristine as a "book" experience. Oh, and the voice of Marlowe really wasn't tough enough. Still, good listening. ...more
I was really tempted to give this five stars. Can I really blame Chandler for including the misogynistic and homophobic that was undoubtedly an accuraI was really tempted to give this five stars. Can I really blame Chandler for including the misogynistic and homophobic that was undoubtedly an accurate portrayal of the brutish and nasty world of Philip Marlowe?
I'm afraid I can. I don't think anyone has ever written this kind of fiction better, and it is certainly hard to imagine someone shoehorning an enlightened attitude into the confines here, but it is what I wish for. Choosing to write the book in the first person certainly didn't make that task any easier.
Still, that fifth star tempts me. Chandler writes so perfectly, consistently finding the right phrase, and the right word, to economically and beautifully capture the nasty world our dark knight struggles against, with wit and a hard head.
At some point I heard that Cory Doctorow's short story, The Man Who Sold the Moon had won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, a pretty significant pAt some point I heard that Cory Doctorow's short story, The Man Who Sold the Moon had won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, a pretty significant prize. What I don't remember is why I thought that meant it was worth tracking down (I don't make a point of hunting down most award-winning fiction), but I'm glad I did.
Of the four stories which I actually read within this fat tome, it was the one that made it worthwhile.
Now, I wanna say: the reason I'm abandoning this book is simply lack of time. Many of the other short stories might be quite worthwhile, so I don't want to dissuade anyone else from reading the collection.
But just in case you only want to read Doctorow's story, he's a bit peculiar in that he makes it available for free on his website, boingboing. Read it here; it's very good. Curiously, that's also the name of a book by old-school scifi author Robert Heinlein in which he expounds on his libertarian politics (it isn't particularly good story). Any connection other than the name escapes me, although I probably read Heinlein's story only once, three decades or more ago.
The rest of this is what I started when I expected to read the whole book. It's mildly critical of the preface and first story, both by Neal Stephenson, questioning whether the whole book was going to be like his pieces. Good news: apparently not.
This is a collection of “stories and visions for a better future”, so as I make my way through it, I expect to be updating this.
But to begin:
The preface and the first story are written by Neal Stephenson, a white American male just a few months younger than I am. Reading both of those pieces left me somewhat disappointed with him, frankly.
First, the preface, titled “Innovation Starvation”. Stephenson relates how he feels let down that the United States no longer appears to be the creative engine of thrilling new technologies that he fondly recalls from his youth. The now cliched narrative arc from NASA’s Gemini missions and moon landing to the retirement of the Space Shuttle is emblematic. What galvanized him into engaging with this was the oil spill of the Deepwater Horizon in 2010 — the people of the United States had been told almost forty years before, in the first oil crisis, that petroleum was politically problematic, yet we’d done very little about it (other than to fight wars and subsidized nations in the middle east).
The goal of the book is to provide conceptual templates to future innovators, the same way the writers of the Golden Age of science fiction had mesmerized and energized the generation of scientists and engineers behind NASA.
The story he writes, Atmosphæ Incognita, is about the engineering of a twenty-kilometer tall building. It is a good story, similar to Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 in its focus on the technology. It felt like something written in the 1950s, though (well before the actual mission of Apollo 13 in 1970). The first-person narrator is a lesbian, true, but that doesn’t really seem to matter. In one way, that’s great. Letting people just be themselves is quite post-modern. But that also means that the only element that hinted at being interesting was set aside, and so the entire story ends up being rather bland. Yeah, the technology is interesting, and the failure of some of the technology lends some interest, but no enticing drama.
Which brings me to why I’m mildly disappointed in Stephenson. I thought he would be clever enough to understand that technology isn’t going to save the United States, and that we can’t invent our way out of our malaise. Well, yeah, sure: some fascinating new toys might distract us from the adult problems we’re confronting, and might even boost the economy enough to mitigate some of them, but that isn’t much.
The problems we’re facing are cultural and sociological, and don’t have simple solutions — we really don’t know whether they have solution at all (if you think you know of a solution, then you just need to take a step backwards and recognize that you didn’t see that it is entangled within an even larger problem).
I’ll have to see whether the other stories largely rest on similar false illusions....more
This is a fun homage to Shakespeare. The fool from Lear is the titular hero of the story, which is based loosely on Lear, with MacBeth's witches throwThis is a fun homage to Shakespeare. The fool from Lear is the titular hero of the story, which is based loosely on Lear, with MacBeth's witches thrown in to provide a different narrative thrust and a few elements of deus ex machina.
Warning: plenty profane. I suspect that if Shakespeare were writing today, he'd be totally on board, though (although he'd probably be working in the medium of cable TV).
It can't get five stars, because there's no iambic pentameter, and it doesn't get four stars, because the author makes things a little too convenient for himself at times — but, as I said, it's fun; don't expect anything profound....more
The writing is great, the characters are vivid and compelling, there's a lot of wonderful humor — but unless you are hunting for some misanthropy, stick with his earlier works. I'd recommend Cat's Cradle....more
I think it is somewhat curious that vampires don't seem to be a la mode as they once were. Werewolves are ascendent,Almost the perfect piece of fluff.
I think it is somewhat curious that vampires don't seem to be a la mode as they once were. Werewolves are ascendent, such as when this book was written. We can also see that in other areas of fashion — in nineties and aughts, the androgynous look was very in. Remember the coolest guys were the metrosexuals? Now, all those guys seem to have beards, and are wearing flannel shirts. I dearly hope we don't head into chupacabra territory next.
Amusingly, the back of this ebook edition has questions intended to help a bookclub have a thoughtful discussion after reading this. I can see how some of them might provoke an interesting discussion, but the only one that is actually provocative would be the one about the vampires engaging in euthanasia.
I'd twist the question around a little bit. Imagine that there were, indeed, vampires among us, and that they need to consume human blood to live. First, would you be willing to donate blood to feed them? What if it had to be "fresh" — i.e., not refrigerated from the bloodbank?
If an actual bite was a physically ecstatic experience for the donor, would that increase your interest in being a direct donor? As in someone actually sinking fangs into your neck, knowing that you'll heal instantly and have no chance of acquiring any disease?
Okay, what about if you were terminally ill, and this appeared to be the most peaceful means of dying?
Would you vote to allow it as a form of capital punishment?...more
I'm very happy the bookclub's dictatress selected this, the first novel in the author's "Prostitution Trilogy", because the third, The Royal Family,I'm very happy the bookclub's dictatress selected this, the first novel in the author's "Prostitution Trilogy", because the third, The Royal Family, is 800 pages (divided into 593 chapters).
This book got my brain churning, but I’m not sure if it did so in a way that makes this a more appealing book to most readers.
But, first, some notes:
TThis book got my brain churning, but I’m not sure if it did so in a way that makes this a more appealing book to most readers.
But, first, some notes:
The New York Times review was much more enthusiastic than I can account for. Maybe because I, unlike the Times reviewer, really dislike it when the technology in a contemporary science fiction story is pushed through the curtain of fantasy. But other readers might not be that prickly, so YMMV.
I love the title. Mildly clever, and so obviously intended to be clever that it is also ironically clever in that knowingness. I was actually a little disappointed that the author had his characters use the term, or at least how it were used.
Pacing feels slow through the first few chapters, before the major characters start interacting. Getting to know their individual backstories doesn’t really foretell the real drama/melodrama of the book. Eventually, the energy is cranked way, way up, and the by the end it became, at least for me, quite a page-turner.
This ended up reminding me a great deal of Daniel Suarez’ Daemon. In both books, a very, very central role is played by an exaggerated account of some of the worrisome aspects of today’s information technology, and in both cases, what the actual technology is capable of is blown so far out of proportion that I (a fairly astute information-technical guy since before time began) no longer was worried that the world depicted was of concern.
How the two books differ is equally important, though: Shafer does a much, much better job at portraying living humans, with their neuroses and conflicts. I think he has more potential as a writer, although the infotech thriller subgenre that he’s chosen to enter might not reward him for that.
He actually scored big points in my mind when he drew “impact attenuators” — those big trashcans at dangerous spots on freeways, such as the “gore points” where guardrails divide continuing lanes from exit lanes — in an analogy with respect to the emotional traumas we sometimes face. It’s tough to come up with a new metaphor that good.
Another sign that he’s wasted on the thriller crowd: on page 13, his female lead asks, “How many people are you supposed to like? she wondered. Below what number are you attachment-disordered?” The Dunbar Limit is probably a good estimate of the upper limit of that range, but our world today is almost neurotic about how socially isolated we’ve become (cf. Bowling Alone), and this is a clever way of expressing that angst.
What really got me caught up in the unfolding drama was connected to my disbelief of the general trajectory of the plot.
I’m moderately confident that our current civilization is going off the rails in the next century — the heavy economic disruption we’ll undergo as climate change messes with us will shove around our over-leveraged economy enough that it’ll eventually go down like a too-high Jenga™ tower.
But even if we somehow dodge that bullet, the coming century or so will be very bad for the majority of the planet’s population, as the Luddite Fallacy is proven to be not a fallacy after all, and most humans discover they are not need in the production chain, and thus not actually wanted, and not powerful enough to demand a socialist inclusion in the emerging post-scarcity economy. That trend is the one that Shafer is aiming at, and I found myself pondering how my view of how that is likely to play out differs from his. And he didn’t win any stars with his narrative — but for reasons that would be spoilers.
I briefly considered giving him props for including Portland, but I realized that he was just pandering to the current cool kids on the block....more
I read Mitchell's multi-mini-story Ghostwritten, and found it less than exciting. I know folks raved about Cloud Atlas and it got the movie treatmenI read Mitchell's multi-mini-story Ghostwritten, and found it less than exciting. I know folks raved about Cloud Atlas and it got the movie treatment and all, but I remained hesitant.
Then I read the review of The Bone Clocks by the marvelous New Yorker literary critic, James Wood (author of How Fiction Works), and realized I have no interest in reading any more Mitchell.
Wood's essay, "Soul Cycle", is exactly what a long-form hunk of literary criticism should be. It does contain minor spoilers of this book, but it is also likely to gently dissuade people from reading the book until Mitchell cleans up his act, so the spoilers are in the service of good....more