Audiobooks

Audiobook Reviews August 2015 by Jonathan Lowe

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RARE STAMPS is the memoir of Terence Stamp, written and read by the actor of Billy Budd, Superman, The Limey, The Hit, and fifty odd other movies. He recalls working with Marlon Brando, Fellini, Monica Vitti, Steven Soderbergh, Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, and others. He describes an eerie one-on-one lunch with Orson Welles. His journey through life has been unique, as everyone’s is, but more fascinating than most in that one doesn’t generally get called “the world’s most beautiful man” only to be discarded a decade later, traveling through India alone until a guru gifted him with a truth that carried him back to London possessing a new mantra similar to Eckhart Tolle’s “living in the moment.” He talks about the truth of character found in being alive as an actor in that moment, and how the real can be achieved even in the first take of a movie scene. Most of all, you feel an authentic voice is speaking, one you may not have encountered much in the current age of divas, drama queens, and ego drenched TMZ stars. That he speaks these written words in his own voice adds a new layer of authenticity and wisdom, proving once again that memoirs must be heard on audio rather than merely read in bound book format. “Bound” is the operative word, as tone and emphasis add both freedom and meaning in the same way that a thumb print or retinal scan proves unique for the purposes of veracity and identity. If you miss this audiobook, you’re missing a treat.

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Next, wow. There is so much here. Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford covers not just robotics and A.I., but the impact of technology on culture, jobs, economics, sports, war, politics, and the fate of humanity. To its credit, the book examines all sides in the light of what science knows now, with various opinions from scientists about what it may know in the future. There are many shockers here, and more coming. For example, income inequality, if allowed to continue at its current rise, may make the movie Elysium seem more like a documentary. Ford points out that the trends (extrapolated by the movie’s setting and plot) are on par to produce a society in which the ultra rich few enjoy comforts unattainable to mass citizens who are more like refugees or slaves. There are a few caveats, however. It is unlikely that the kind of workers (such as Matt Damon played in the movie) will be needed. His work would be done by robots. The movie also postulates that robots will be relatively dumb, and this is probably not realistic, either. (So say the majority of scientist/engineers. The movie had to make robots relatively dumb to maintain continuity vis-a-vis Damon’s job.) Whether there will be general intelligence equivalent “hard” A.I.s is a matter for speculation, but most agree it will happen, although some say sooner, some say later. (Scifi, especially in movies, tends to underestimate the timeline. Most book writers of science fiction project things further out. It really depends on the rate of change in society and technology, and no one knows what has yet to be discovered.) Particularly intriguing is the point of view this audiobook brings to the question of health care (which was also a major theme in Elysium.) Ford shows that our current system (supported and locked in by our two party political system) is not geared to reward efficiency. The goal of health care now is profit. He proves this with careful reasoning and multiple examples. Medicare is the most efficient, but even it cannot address the rise of costs, which, together with fraud and the widespread public acceptance of junk food and soda, mean only escalation of deficits (poverty.) Today the number one reason people go bankrupt is medical bills. Meanwhile, there are ads on TV which exacerbate the problem. We are taught to depend on drugs to fix us when we get sick, rather than to prevent disease by proper nutrition and exercise. One ad, for a motorized electric cart for disabled people to get around, is promoted as being “reimbursed by Medicare,” but a report showed that only 20% of those getting the carts actually needed them. That’s an 80% scam of Medicare dollars. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Hospitals are overbilling as standard practice, and investing millions in new technology which, one might think, would improve health care. But in most cases this technology is being created, not for efficiency, but for revenue. As radiologists and lab technicians are then replaced by robots, there will be fewer employees in hospitals, too, as in other industries. Ford examines those industries, and shows how and why the trend of fewer employees (and greater valuations of companies as a result) will require tough decisions on the part of college freshmen and politicians alike. Narrator Jeff Cummings is always engaging yet restrained, disappearing into the text in creating a true ear-wax melting audiobook, for sure.

Finally, The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka is a well written science fiction novel incorporating the strangeness of quantum theory. A disgraced young scientist is given a second chance by joining a team of researchers on a trail basis. If they prove themselves, they’ll be offered full jobs. (Kinda like auditions on AGT…how good an act will yours be?) Eric Argus is one of these guys, and what he does besides drinking and socializing is a “look busy” experiment that recreates the famous “double-slit” physics experiment in which particles decide their fate based on an observer’s seeing or recording them. Astonishingly, he notices that only people can collapse the field into a decisive pattern, while animals cannot. This proves that human consciousness is unique, and the soul may be real. What he discovers next, involving very rare people who do not collapse the field, is scary and provocative, involving the nature of reality, religion, time, space, and the mysterious “flicker men” who realize he knows too much. Narrator Keith Szarabajka is the perfect arbiter of the story’s moods, with a presence that chooses its pattern naturally, without pretense. This is a high concept audio novel written as if James Patterson were co-authoring with a physicist like Stephen Hawking. Recommended for anyone with interests in science, scifi, and suspense.

(Columnist Jonathan Lowe is a longtime judge in the Audie Awards, and is author of Postmarked for Death, Awakening Storm, Fame Island, The Methuselah Gene, and The Miraculous Plot of Leiter & Lott. His own books can be sampled at TowerReview.com/Lowe.html )

Audiobook Reviews Archives Prior to July 2014

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