Audiobooks

November 2014 Audiobooks Review by Jonathan Lowe

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PILLAR TO THE SKY by William R. Forstchen is a science fiction novel that presents listeners with the dilemma facing humanity in stark reality: the end of oil as means to fuel rising populations in the future. What it postulates is an elevator to space, a tower made of carbon nanotube ribbons far more dense, lightweight, and flexible than any building material now being used. These ribbons would serve as conduit for electricity generated in space by new technologies harvesting energy from the sun far more efficiently than solar panels on Earth. Unlimited clean power would then supplant fossil fuels with thousands of gigawatts of energy piped downward. Of course those whose short term profits are threatened by an alternative energy source are willing to finance terrorism against the project, and this forms the plot as renegade scientist Gary Morgan, and then Eva Morgan attempt to fund and approve the construction, with billionaire Franklin Smith as major contributor. Wars over oil have led to wars over water scarcity, and humanity is at the brink of social and political meltdown as time runs out for finding a solution to global warming, pollution, and chaos. Then there is the problem of orbiting space debris which requires laser technology to protect future farms of lightweight collectors the size of Manhattan. This easily accessible novel is a wide ranging human survival story that will intrigue those who liked the Sandra Bullock and George Clooney movie Gravity…and may interest the producers too, with its pro-exploration NASA theme. Narrator is Grover Gardner, whose decades of experience and vocal attributes are unsurpassed in the audiobook world. He could hold interest reading a laundry list!

In her provocative new book FIELDS OF BLOOD: Religion and the History of Violence, author and scholar Karen Armstrong argues that violence is not synonymous with religion, but is rather adopted by radicals who cherry-pick verses in order to justify their political objectives. She examines religions throughout history, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and others, bringing to bear statistics and quotations, both written and oral. Specific incidents are downplayed in favor of a wider view of these religions from their founding until now. The big picture, she says, is that religion permeated agrarian societies in which wealthy landowners brutalized peasants to keep them in line. Agrarian aggression begat the warrior ethos, and warriors used (and continue to use) religion to justify their atrocities, speaking of the “glories” of battle and the sense of camaraderie and hero status attained by “winning” in an emotional setting. (Young men are most likely to be aggressive since their relative status is based on physical superiority over peers, while the US vs. THEM message of nationalism is a tune played by all nations, even at the Olympics.) The carryover into today is that terrorists have been brainwashed (and/or are brainwashing themselves) into believing they are “fighting the good fight,” which the foundations of their religions do not support. Ayaan Hirsi Ali would disagree with this, but regardless of one’s take on this complex subject, Armstrong can be commended for not pushing her own agenda in presenting this detailed history, unless you believe peace and cooperation is an agenda. Usually an author doesn’t read their own book for audio (unless it’s an autobiography or humor book), but Armstrong here demonstrates narrative skills and acumen in writing too. She has won a TED prize, and is working on the Charter for Compassion. In addition, she was awarded the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal, and the British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding. Regardless of one’s religious or political views, I recommend this book simply for framing the debate, and the rich scholarship displayed in laying out the history. It is well written and ably narrated as a bonus.

THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE is a young adult novel by Adele Griffin, and is the fictional biography of a young model and artist suddenly thrust into fame and various predatory men in the New York art scene. She dies in an accident (or was it suicide?) by falling off a bridge. The story is told by those who knew her, in diary-like entries. The audiobook version includes photos like the ones shown in this video (in PDF format as download or on CD.) Who is Addison? In real life she is Giza Lagarce, a French girl who granted Griffin the rights to use her photos for the book. If there’s a movie, who knows, maybe Giza will play the lead? I enjoyed the audiobook version, which is read by a full cast. It’s a haunting novel told in an unusual way, the theme being how young people cope with fame (or not), and the madness associated with anarchistic, artistic expression (in some who may be disturbed emotionally.) Ambition on TV is focused on singing or modeling, like The Voice or America’s Next Top Model, but my sister and I were talking about this the other day: how often do you see a job advertised for a singer or model? Griffin’s novel is different in this way, too, making the same point with art…that fame comes to few, and when it does, you think you’ll know how you’re react, but you really don’t. A must hear with a talented cast of diverse voice actors, targeted to females, 14 to 30.

If you’re a Costco member, you’ll see my brief piece on the enjoyment of audiobooks in their December issue, which goes to all 8 million members. I got a quote from actress and narrator Rosalyn Landor, who has narrated dozens of titles between movies and TV series. For ten more reasons why you should try audiobooks, go to TowerReview.com/audiobooks.html

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