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Vox: SF For Your Ears
by Scott Danielson

Other Vox: SF For Your Ears Columns

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BEYOND 2000
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The Nine Billion Names of God and Other Stories by Arthur C. Clarke, read by Various, Fantastic Audio, approx 10 hours
The Nine Billion Names of God and Other Stories I was in fourth grade when I discovered science fiction. I have no idea why I remember this. A friend of mine one day handed me a green hardcover book and said, "You'll like this." I looked at the cover -- Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke. I brought the book home, read it, and discovered science fiction. It was a science fiction that resembled the television shows and movies I had seen, but it was deeper, it was richer, and though I didn't know it then, it was a beginning.

Since that day, most of my leisure reading has been science fiction. I've found nothing more satisfying for the heart and mind as a good science fiction novel. And, for me, the center of gravity has always been Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. The two audiobooks presented here are from their early careers.

The first is The Nine Billion Names of God and Other Stories by Arthur C. Clarke. This audiobook contains stories from Tor's The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke that had been originally published between 1951 and 1956. This is the period during which Clarke published his first novels, Prelude to Space and The Sands of Mars.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction points out what it calls a paradox in Clarke's writing career -- even though he is known as a writer who presents an optimistic view of humanity, he also presents humanity as cosmic children next to immensely knowledgeable races. He is both a humanist and a mystic, showing us that humans can achieve anything, while at the same time instilling awe in the face of greater intelligence.

Both sides of Clarke are evident in these early stories. A man who found himself on the losing side of a war, even though his side had developed the ultimate weapon, narrates the first story in the collection, entitled "Superiority". In "The Nine Billion Names of God", a group of monks lease a supercomputer to list all the possible names of God. A Jesuit priest struggles with his faith in "The Star", my favorite of the collection. And one of Jupiter's moons holds some surprises in "Jupiter Five".

I enjoy Clarke for both sides of his writing. I share his enthusiasm for space travel and share his awe when I consider what me might find out there. The 22 stories in this audiobook are first rate. They stand the test of time admirably.

The audio is very well produced. Various readers perform the stories, most notably Harlan Ellison reads Clarke's famous title story. Each piece is preceded with an introduction written (but not performed by) Clarke himself. Before "Jupiter Five", for example, he tells us that he needed 20 pages of orbital calculations to make the story work. Now that's hard science fiction.

Isaac Asimov Himself Reads 5 Complete Stories by Isaac Asimov, read by the author, Audio Editions, 3 hours
The Nine Billion Names of God and Other Stories Second, I've got Isaac Asimov Himself Reads 5 Complete Stories. As the title indicates, Asimov himself reads these five stories, also from the 50s. I've always found his enthusiasm contagious; hearing him read his own stories only adds to that. He talks a bit about each story before performing it, adding a personal and welcome touch to the audiobook.

"The Immortal Bard" lets us see Shakespeare enroll in a college course on his own writings. "The Last Question" is Asimov's favorite of his short stories, showing us the gradual decay of everything in the universe. In "Someday" we see a bit of robot in a computer. "The Jokester" offers a theory on the origin of humor. And "The Ugly Little Boy", a Neanderthal, is brought into the modern world.

In contrast to Clarke, Asimov rarely used alien races in his fiction. These stories present a nice cross-section of his work, from the seriousness of "The Last Question" to the comic "The Jokester". He is famous for his many robot stories, and though none of them is here, "Someday" scratches the surface. But even with this omission, I found this a very enjoyable audio.

NOTES

Fantastic Audio is producing 6 audiobook volumes of Arthur C. Clarke's stories, taken from the Tor collection The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, 5 from the different periods of Clarke's career, and the last entitled The Best Short Stories of Arthur C. Clarke.

They've also got an audio from Harlan Ellison called Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral, an original audio collection.

Also of note is an unabridged Hyperion by Dan Simmons and Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. Other featured authors include Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Copyright © 2001 Scott Danielson

Scott discovered the world of SF audio years ago, when he spent two hours a day in his car. His commute has since shortened considerably, but his love for audio remains.


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