Culture

Audiobook Review: Farewell To The Master by Harry Bates

audiobookHello again to all of my readers! I hope you are all well and now I shall explain today’s review. I’m sure that many of you have heard of or watched The Day The Earth Stood Still. Be it the classic 1950s version or the – much inferior – 2008 remake. Farewell To The Master by the (sadly lost to history) Harry Bates was the original short story from 1940 which proved the inspiration for the famous film. As such this review is going to be very similar to my review for Frozen Hell by John W. Campbell Jr.

Harry Bates is a figure which although he is not well remembered had quite the impact on the history of science fiction. He acted as the founding editor of Astounding Stories of Super Science which later became better known as simply Astounding Stories and was eventually edited by John W. Campbell Jr. For information on his tenure see my discussion of Frozen Hell. Bates often had his authors focus on exciting action with short bursts of plausible science when relevant. Bates himself did write a number of stories while acting as editor however there is no record of any published stories by Bates under any name after 1952. He eventually died in 1981 mostly forgotten.

Farewell To The Master is a story from 1940 which despite inspiring the 1951 classic is very different from its more well known children. The plot is as follows: A space-time ship suddenly appears in Washington D.C. unexpectedly. A large crowd gathers and waits for signs of any occupants. Eventually an humanoid looking alien leaves the ship known as Klaatu alongside a robotic thing known as Gnut. Klaatu is assassinated and to prove their sincere sorrow over the event a partial museum of the event of first contact and mausoleum for the remains of Klaatu is built. A journalist known as Cliff Sutherland becomes suspicious and believes that Gnut – who supposedly has not moved since the death of Klaatu – is secretly moving at night but I won’t give away any more of the story except to say that the famous ‘Klaatu barada nikto’ was an invention of the 1951 film.

I found Farewell to be an intriguing relisten. Cliff Sutherland proves to be an interesting character with slowly progressing intentions and motivations throughout the course of the short story while Gnut proves to be something of a puzzle. At least at first. Bates’s writing is enjoyable with enough going on to entertain the reader or listener and if you enjoy hearing the original versions of certain now world famous or ubiquitous stories I certainly recommend it.

The narration in the version which I experienced came from a Tom Weiner who I found a very good and enjoyable narrator. His various voices certainly seemed to capture the spirit of the 1940s and 1950s science fiction in which the story was created. In some ways it was similar to the narration done for The Luna Missile Crisis. Weiner also narrates a introductory miniature biography and history of Harry Bates and his involvement with the science fiction genre which also discusses some clear differences with The Day The Earth Stood Still.

On the other hand, despite enjoying Farewell to the Master, I would personally say that the 1951 Day is the superior experience. They tell different stories and have different messages so as a result you can certainly experience both and get a different result but Farewell (and I feel somewhat guilty saying this) simply feels more dated. It’s one of those rare examples where I find it difficult to define what ‘bothers’ me about a story (and in this case Farewell comparatively.)

As a result this is a story which I personally enjoy and has an intriguing ending but I wouldn’t recommend seeking out unless you are a big fan of classic science fiction or you consider The Day The Earth Stood Still as one of your personal favourite films. Otherwise the specific version I listened to is a three out of five story being elevated to four out of five by rather well done narration by Weiner and the mini biography prior to the story itself.

NephriteHopefully you will all hear from me soon.

Sayonara!

Nephrite.

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