Audiobook Reviews August 2016 by Jonathan Lowe


Back in the “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” days, the spy game was about hidden messages and microdots that spies carried across borders at personal peril, hoping not to be intercepted at airports. Today spies sit in offices or at various Starbucks, staring at computer screens. They hack into sensitive servers, download files in seconds, and then send them on wild electronic routes across the global internet. Or they put spyware on computers and wait for the info to be emailed back to them. In CYBER SPIES by Gordon Corera, the history of spycraft is examined, with particular attention given to Russia, the UK, and China, but also the NSA and characters like Edward Snowden. It’s not just military secrets that are targeted. Cyber big business crime is viral, as global technology in the U.S. and elsewhere is targeted for attack. Narrator Gildart Jackson has a deep English voice with a commanding yet pleasant tone to it, perfect for listening in the car or on an iPhone or iPod where there might be background noise. You will learn many things you may not have gleaned even by reading the NY Times, and certainly not by watching network news. Such as the personality of the NSA director, how the Cold War evolution of spycraft has gone from hundreds of millions to hundreds of billions in cost in a new arms (technology) race, and how the Chinese have become the biggest users of the internet with the most spies (including state-friendly tech companies working 24/7 to acquire both business and military advantage via espionage.) Many countries, particularly non-democratic ones, limit the internet, blocking out entire sectors of news and information, even as they hack dissidents or regime critics. So besides being a means for people to obtain information, the internet is also a tool to suppress citizens and to attack neighbors. Reminds me of the Star Trek episode in which two civilizations war with each other via computer, and those “hit” electronically must report to disintegration stations. The consequences of spying and information theft likewise includes victims. Spock would have found the audiobook “fascinating,” before a raised eyebrow indicated that humans never seem to learn from war as the Vulcans did.


Speaking of Star Trek, Harlan Ellison’s new audiobook THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER contains the original script of that award winning “best ever episode” teleplay performed by a full cast, plus commentary from both writers and actors (like DeForest Kelley, who is on Harlan’s side.) It was not the script that aired. The audiobook is 8 hours in length, and explains how Harlan was lied about by both Roddenberry and Shatner, (and lied to, as well.) Did he singlehandedly save Star Trek from cancellation at the beginning of the first season? Would Star Trek even exist today without Harlan? A case is made. The script of City as aired won a Hugo award, but is still inferior to the original. Ellison gives proof of what he says, (and besides this, having seen the movie version of “A Boy and His Dog” compared to the story version by Ellison, I have to believe him. The ending to Dog was “crap” compared to the infinitely more literate and meaningful ending to the story version, which Hollywood hacks turned into a joke.) Star Trek was originally conceived by Roddenberry as an ambitious and original series, with daring and imaginative concepts to be written by legends of science fiction, but has since devolved into one liner-replete situation comedies and SFX eye candy, no more “real” science fiction than was Lost in Space. With today’s war on science, and our ignorance about science, it is not surprising that pop culture has “dumbed down” Hollywood, and that directors like JJ Abrams rarely hire great writers but write the scripts themselves, opting for actors barely out of their teens to play “seasoned veteran” commanders. (Target audience: teens to mid 20s.) Or as Roger Ebert once told me before he died, “We live in desperate times. They don’t write movies for adults anymore.” Follow the money, and the Coke ads. (Sorry, Beyond fans. Harlan says the same thing in his audiobook, and he is the most award-winning SF writer still alive. “If I’m such a bum like they say,” he says, “why did they keep coming back to me again and again for ideas about Star Trek movie scripts?”)

The rise of hate politics may be to blame for many of the lone wolf attacks in America and abroad, a topic explored in THE MYSTERY OF THE LONE WOLF KILLER by Unni Turrettini. Roughly two-thirds of attacks are now described as “lone wolf,” and this is unfortunate for a number of reasons. Solo killers can easily hide, are difficult if not impossible to track or predict (as shown in the book “The Black Swan”), and their motives are legion (not just ISIS.) Given that fame is our culture’s #1 goal (with the viral rise of the Selfie), what faster way to instant fame than by killing people, knowing that the media will be all over it? If someone is dying of cancer, or depressed and angry, plus they are a sociopath (one in 25 are, read “The Sociopath Next Door”), suicide by cop may be appealing, radicalized or not. Psychologists often say that when suicides are publicized, the suicide rate goes up. Same is true of terrorist copycats. The more hype you see, the more of the same you will get. Network news is in competition for eyeballs, and must give us more of what we want, whether that be viral cat videos or explosions, in order to sell more junk food and the prescription drugs needed to treat eating junk food. (Watch any half hour news show, and you will see sensational news first, followed by drug ads with shorter segments to commercial break, “When we come back,” ending with an upbeat feel good piece to preserve viewership.) Every time, every network. Same stories, too. You have to read or listen to books to find out the WHY. “The Spiral Notebook” is another I recommend, along with my own political bomber novel “Postmarked for Death,” which gets into the twisted mind of a terrorist (and was endorsed by Clive Cussler as “mystery at its best.” Now for the publisher’s notes on Unni’s audiobook: July 22, 2011 was the darkest day in Norway’s history since Nazi Germany’s invasion. It was one hundred eighty-nine minutes of terror—from the moment the bomb exploded outside a government building until Anders Behring Breivik was apprehended by the police at Utoya Island. Breivik murdered seventy-seven people, most of them teenagers and young adults, and wounded hundreds more. Breivik is a ‘lone wolf killer,’ often overlooked until they commit their crime. Breivik is also unique as he is the only ‘lone wolf’ killer in recent history to still be alive and in captivity. Unparalleled research and a unique international perspective. The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer examines the massacre itself and why this lone-killer phenomenon is increasing worldwide. Based on true events. Unni Turrettini was born in northern Norway and grew up in Drammen, a city near Oslo, approximately twenty minutes from where Breivik was raised. As a foreign exchange student, she graduated from high school in Kansas City, Kansas, and she has law degrees from Norway, France, and the United States. She currently lives with her family in Geneva, Switzerland, and is at work on a second book, a behind-the-scenes examination of the Nobel Peace Prize. Narrator Pete Cross holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Toledo and an MFA in Acting from the California Institute of the Arts. Stage experience includes Alexander in Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, at Carnegie Hall. He has also acted in film, and served on faculty at Cal Arts and with Aquila Morong Studio in Hollywood. Pete has coached for film and theatrical productions, and continues to work with private clients all over the world.

Also new in fiction is the unusual suspense DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch, narrated by Jon Lindstrom; KILLER LOOK by Linda Fairstein, a romantic suspense by the great Barbara Rosenblat (whom I know, and have interviewed); HEROES OF THE FRONTIER by Dave Eggers, an usual family story read by Rebecca Lowman; and THE ANGEL’S SHARE by J.R. Ward, a high society novel read by Alexander Cendese.

Recommended for you