- Audio Download
- Listening Length: 7 hours and 15 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 8 Sept. 2009
- Language: English
- ASIN: B002SQ7PUW
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
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Man Plus Audiobook – Unabridged
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Even if 40 year old science fiction is not what you would normally think of reading, this book could be worth trying.
It is the story of how an astronaut, a man called Roger Torroway,'s body is rebuilt to be able to survive on Mars. This may sound like yet another of the many immitations of the 'Frankenstein's Monster' myth, of a thinking machine created by human science that risks getting out of control of its creators. In a way it is, although by the end of the book we discover that the real Frankenstein's Monster is not Roger Torroway but something else, which is not actually malevolent but is deviously concerned for itself and not its human creators.
The story ends with some questions and plot strands resolved, some unresolved and an unexpected new mystery. However, the story seems somehow meant to end like this and I do not think the author himself had further answers in his mind at the time.
The author did co-write a sequel many years later called Mars Plus that at time of writing no one has reviewed on Amazon.co.uk. Four people have reviewed it on the American Amazon.com but all but one found it disappointing and say that the sequel does not spend much time on the questions raised or characters left at the end of Man Plus anyway. The only favourable review seems to refer to another of the author's books and to have been posted there accidentally.
It is therefore probably best that we accept that the story ends here, with Roger Torroway, his mostly robotic body able to experience the Martian surface unconfined by a space suit, looking up through the thinner Martian atmosphere with enhanced senses at familiar and unfamiliar stars, knowing it may be best that he is never reunited with his beloved wife Dorrie back on Earth, to whom he now appears a metallic monster.
This is the first science fiction novel I have read for more than 20 years. I tried it because I liked a short story by the same author Frederick Pohl in a compilation of otherwise very varying interest by different authors The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories (Mammoth Books). [Should you wish to know, Pohl's story in that book is called 'Waiting for the Olympians' and set in an alternative history in which the Roman Empire survived to the present day and now has a space exploration programe. Christianity never got going as a religion because a merciful Roman Governor pardoned Jesus and deprived him of martyrdom.]
The book itself is narrated in the third person, the characters central to the story are all introduced early on but the main protagonist does not begin in the role of the cyborg destined for Mars colonisation. I found this was a really great narrative trick although the pace and style of writing is good besides and the author does not have to rely upon tricks to keep a reader engaged with the story.
I dont know a lot about cybernetics, space exploration or the hard science aspects of the novel but this content is convincing and not fantastic or too wonderous, there are just enough details ommitted to make the crazy surgerical feats involved in making the protagonist "man plus" to make it seem feasible. One aspect of reading novels like this which depict a world of tommorrow that we are closer to being in than the author was at the time of writing is discovering what innovations and developments they anticipated correctly and what they did not, for instance everyone does have the means to communicate via video calls but there are no mobile phones, these are phones like the home appliances, and folding screen covers provide privacy rather than minimising pictures as is possible with a laptop appliance in reality. While the author has anticipated flying cars, automated transport, some innovations in garage car storage they imagine a world in which everyone smokes, even in hospitals, and as I've said no one has mobile communications (car phones exist but are more like CB radios).
There is more character development than world building but both are done really well, the world of the future anticipates things such as China's rise in prominance, there is a kind of internet functioning in that computers are networked but the characterisation is what I found the greatest. This is a very humane and humanising tale, the psychological aspects of it are great, one candidate perishes as a result of psychological pressure, or at least it is implied and a mainstay of the story is how Roger, the man plus subject, adapts to his transformation. It is a brilliant tale from this perspective and I would recommend it to anyone as a result, not just fans of science fiction.
Its not unreasonable to mention Frankenstein perhaps but this isnt a tale of mad science and alienation in quite the same way, the pace and style of writing is pretty different too. Recommended.
As a volunteer for the Man Plus programme Roger must be stripped of his humanity, the flesh that identifies him and even his very perceptions of reality as he is remade to be a new life form. Through this the novel allows glimpses of both Roger's inner torment as well political debates that the team that must manufacture him face.
In some ways I wish that there had been more of Mars in this novel, as it is relegated to just two short chapters. Though the big point about this novel isn't about how man will live on Mars, it is about what he must face before he can live there. A very intelligent piece of science fiction.