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Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

January 2011

by Jonathan Lowe

Kevin Kelly, a former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog (and cofounder of Wired magazine), worked among the counterculture hippies of the 70s, many of whom have since moved into green industry startups. Now he has written WHAT TECHNOLOGY WANTS, narrated by Paul Boehmer on audio. The book examines the dangers inherent in accepting technologies too quickly, regardless of their effects on the environment, on society, and on individual freedoms. He shows that from the crossbow on, big inventions evolve to change civilization itself, and there is rarely a way to stop this from happening. Inventors rarely imagine what their inventions may eventually become. Edison, for example, thought that the phonograph would be used mainly to record the dying wishes of gravely ill people. "No technology is neutral," Kelly says, "and each good technology can also be abused." Therefore, he concludes, we should be cautious with new innovations. We should adopt them slowly, (instead of rushing to have the latest of everything), and much like the Amish, who linger 50 years behind currently accepted technologies. Kelly talks to several "Amish geeks," who do indeed adopt technology, but only after their use is proven not to harm others. Even Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, (who was considered a nut because he lived in a shed in Montana and constructed bombs that had little effect on stopping what he perceived as the dangers of "the industrial machine"), wrote one argument that made sense, says Kelly. (His mistake, of course, was that he "followed logic divorced from ethics.") The industrial machine that Kaczynski feared, laid out in his manifesto, correctly stated that the "secondary effects" of new technologies cannot be predicted, and run on rules that inevitably reduce individual freedoms. "It can't be reversed, either," says Kelly, and so there is the possibility that long term consequences may unbalance our chance at ultimate survival as a species. As we come to depend on new technologies, over time they come to master us. Or as Star Wars director George Lucas told Kelly, "our technology is going straight up like a rocket ship, but our social development is a flat line." So what we need to do is change ourselves before the consequences which Lucas envisions overwhelm our ability to cope, or even to survive the outcome. Prescient and challenging, and perfect companion to the movie TRON, the book points to the far reaching horizon where intelligence comes in many sentient forms beyond our egocentric one. What technology wants is to increase the connections between discovered facts, and exponentially grow to fill a universe we have yet to imagine.
SELECTED NOVELS & SHORT STORIES OF PATRICIA HIGHSMITH is narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Bronson Pinchot for Blackstone, and includes "Strangers On a Train," and "The Price of Salt," plus various shorter stories. A bit of an enigma, Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) also authored "The Talented Mr. Ripley," and was unafraid to disconcert her readers with plotting that was antithetical to the typical "good over evil" denouement demanded by readers of pop fiction and viewers of Hollywood features. With prose that was simple yet complex in emotional undercurrency, she was a master of unexpected endings, showing how human weaknesses often set people on paths from which their later decisions cannot extricate them. Some of her stories were published in magazines such as Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazines. "Strangers on a Train" was a film noir, as was "The Talented Mr. Ripley" with Matt Da mon and Jude Law in the leads. The definitive narration of "Train" (the novel) is by William Roberts, but Bronson Pinchot is also superb here, and nowhere can you get so much in one audiobook, which also enlists the talents of actress and voice-over artist Cassandra Campbell. A must for anyone who loves classic and offbeat mystery.
Next, Heather Henderson reads UFOS by Leslie Kean, a painstaking investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena. Skeptical in her tone, the author is nonetheless fascinated by the visual evidence and testimonies of civilians and officials alike (including generals and a governor). Fighting upstream past criticism resulting from a flood of B-movies, nut-job conspiracy theorists, and rigid resistance by military spokesmen, Kean, an investigative journalist, takes a scientific view of the subject, and so elevates it into the realm of worthy inquiry. She lays out what needs to be done to make evidence more open to public scrutiny, and establishes proof that UFO sightings have increased at times of nuclear bomb tests, and that they have intelligently evaded attacks while never returning fire. Many of the incidents here rigorously examined will surprise the listener, and have him or her wondering if--or when--an indisputable alien artifact will one day surface.

Finally, Laura Hillenbrand once told me she may never write another book after Seabiscuit, for health reasons, so we are lucky to have UNBROKEN, the inspirational story of Louie Zamperini, a celebrated Olympic runner turned soldier who later survived a harrowing plane crash in the Pacific during WWII, along with some of the most horrendous indignities at the hands of Japanese guards ever chronicled. Edward Herrmann is superb as narrator, once again scoring the kind of dramatic, multi-faceted dialogue, description and exposition he hopes to perform.

2011 Past Columns