Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Variable Man by Phillip K. Dick

Source: LibriVox (Zipped mp3s)
Length: 2 hr, 49 min
Reader: Gregg Margarite

The book: In the distant future, the expansion of Earth's colonies has stalled due to a cold war with the empire of Proxima Centauri. Like the Cold War of Phillip K. Dick's time, the war has ground to a stalemate because computer analysis shows that neither side can conclusively win. A new faster-than-light bomb may turn the tide in Earth's favor. As Earth mobilizes for war, a malfunction in a time probe brings Thomas Cole forward from the early 20th century into the far future.

Old science fiction tends to have the problem of newer technology passing it by. In this case, the entire motivation for the plot, the wiring of a faster-than-light bomb, was made irrelevant 5 years after publication with the invention of the integrated circuit. Science fiction isn't just about technology, though. At its heart, science fiction is about positing a world that is in some ways different from our own and conjecturing how people would act in this world. In this novella, humankind has given up control of their world; they've given control of decisions to computers, control of their electronics to the manufacture, and control of making things over to specialists. Although the specifics of this novel are far outdated, the themes are as important today as they were in the 1950s. 

Rating: 7/10

The reader: Greg Margarite has done a number of recordings of science fiction stories for LibriVox, but this is the first of his that I have reviewed at Free Listens. Margarite is a good match for classic science fiction since, like James T. Kirk, he has a habit of putting Emphasis on Almost Every other Word. After a brief time where I found this annoying, I quickly dropped in to the story and Margarite's narration seemed to fit the novella perfectly. His style may not be for everyone, but I thought it was well-done.

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