Book #92: Proxima (2013)

61sWB6E2lGL._SL300_Author: Stephen Baxter
Language: English
Length: 1072 minutes (17 hours 52 minutes)
Finished listening on: November 6 2015

I knew about Stephen Baxter because of his collaborations with Terry Pratchett, and Proxima was one of the books that kept coming up in lists of his works. I chose this at the time because it was on offer on Audible, and I got it with the book about dragons for two for the price of one. But the other book was probably better.

The problem with this audiobook is, I don’t think it’s a bad book by any means, but the narration is bad. In fact, it’s absolutely atrocious, and nearly made me give up in the first few chapters, but I’m a bit obsessive and like to finish what I start. I’m glad I finished it, but I had to take it in small doses. It took me twice as long as the next audiobook I listened to, despite being the same length.

What was so bad? I hear you ask. It was his accent. For some reason, the American actor responsible for reading the lines decided he would put on a British accent, a propos of nothing, quite frankly, and he doesn’t get it right. He sounds like a stilted imitation of Prince Charles, and he collapses some of the vowel distinctions, clipping the vowel in thought to rhyme with lot and a few other things too make me cringe internally every time. I was surprised when he showed basic awareness of north-of-England accents – he had to when the main character is from Manchester, perhaps the author’s hometown – but he mangles this worse than the Prince Charles accent. He should have stuck to his natural accent, at least for the narration itself. You get a bit more leeway with characters’ voices.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I hated the narrator. It’s a shame, because the story is otherwise interesting, and there were enough sequel hooks and unanswered questions for me to want to read the next one (maybe on paper this time).

The story is the colonization of a new world in the Proxima Centauri system. As Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, to get enough heat, its planets must orbit in a very tight circle, and become tidally locked, like the Moon to the Earth, so that the sun hangs in the sky in an eternal day. The book explores the possibilities of such a world – for example, there is a series of bands of different biomes, based on the distance from the sub-stellar point.

There is also an alien ecosystem, based around a very different system than ours. The animals and intelligent life seem to be made up of sticks taken from local plant life, or something. I must admit I didn’t have a fully clear image of them – I think they have three legs, and make up groups of three usually. But they were left somewhat enigmatic.

Anyway, the book gets a bit weird in the second or third act, and starts adding more themes and plot elements than it can keep up with. I noticed a lot of similarities with the Long Earth series, which Baxter of course cowrote. On a simple level, there’s being stranded on an empty world, but a lot of the political themes here closely parallel those in that other book.

So, yeah, good book, but the audiobook adaptation really fails it. If I get around to the next one, I’ll be reading it with my eyes.

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