Thursday, April 10, 2008

Trunk & Disorderly by Charles Stross

Source: Subterranean Press
Length: Approximately 1.5 hr
Reader: Charles Stross

The book: This novellette/long story is a hilarious re-imagining of the Jeeves stories, but set in a futuristic science fiction universe. If you've never read a Jeeves story, I recommend listening to Mark Nelson's reading of Right Ho, Jeeves. If you are familiar with Jeeves, you'll recognize Stross's skillful imitation of Wodehouse's use of slang, hyperbole, and breezy tone to create a humorous atmosphere with only a few actual jokes.

Stross's cosmic playboy Ralph is certainly the spiritual heir of Wodehouse's aristocratic layabout Bertie Wooster. He's burdened with a Wooster-like dilemma in that, all at the same time, he's trying to patch up a relationship with his robot girlfriend, babysit his relative's pet dwarf mammoth, and attend an atmospheric re-entry and party on Mars with his club friends. My favorite character, Ralph's friend Toadsworth is a cross between a Roaring 20's frat boy and a dalek. In fact, the only part of the Jeeves stories that Stross fails to capture is Jeeves himself.

In Wodehouse's stories, Jeeves is a character full of subtlety and contradictions, which Wodehouse plays off against one another for humorous effect. Stross's robot valet Ms. Feng, by contrast, is a deux ex machina (or, perhaps, machina ex deus) who serves mostly to get past difficult plot points. However, it's hardly fair to fault Stross for failing to live up to one of the greatest characters in English popular literature when everything else is done so well.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: I wrote earlier that Mark Nelson's reading of Wodehouse with an American accent did nothing to diminish its brilliance. I stand by that statement. In this reading, though, Stross's British accent lends an additional authenticity and humor to Ralph's narration. Stross proves himself an accomplished voice actor in reading his own work. The only misstep is from his attempt at a Southern woman's voice for Laura, though since she is a robot, the Scarlet O'Hara drawl can be excused as an intentionally bad exaggeration. The recording is professionally well-made and broken up into 13 short chapters.

Note: This story contains sexual themes, economic injustice, and heavy use of alcohol.

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