- Paperback: 216 pages
- Publisher: BenBella Books; BenBella Books ed edition (December 11, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1932100121
- ISBN-13: 978-1932100129
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,185,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Listeners Paperback – December 11, 2003
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"A fascinating ... view of the many responses of mankind to the coming confrontation with intelligent aliens ... First rate science fiction." -- Publishers Weekly
"A must for any library whose readers look beyond their feet." -- Library Journal
"One of the finest books of speculative fiction ever written ... strong, thoughtful, marvelously human, and ... without flaw ... An unforgettable experience." -- Harlan Ellison
"One of the very best fictional portrayals of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence ever written." -- Carl Sagan
About the Author
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Listeners' author James Gunn is a Hugo-winning science fiction Grandmaster, ranked on a short list with Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and other famous SFWA Grandmasters.
As he has explained in print, Gunn started writing what became the novel The Listeners in August 1965, inspired by Walter Sullivan's 1964 prize-winning nonfiction book about SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), We Are Not Alone [a book highly recommended].
Consisting almost entirely of stories originally published 1968-1972 in science fiction magazines (Galaxy and others), some material was added and The Listeners was published as a novel in late 1972.
My jaw dropped when reading some of the misplaced criticism of this novel published in Amazon reviews. Stanislaw Lem's First Contact novel His Master's Voice was first published in English in 1984, a dozen years after Gunn's novel was published in 1972. That was nearly twenty-years after Gunn wrote the first section in 1965. Gunn's novella "The Listeners" was published by Fred Pohl in Galaxy magazine in 1968 before Lem's novel was published in Polish in Europe. Gunn did not steal from Stanislaw Lem.
And to imply that because story material is "dated" it somehow shouldn't be read is absurd. Like Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Austin's Pride and Prejudice, and Burroughs' Tarzan, Gunn's The Listeners is marvelously representative of its time and place.
In 2012, forty-years after it was first published as a novel, James Gunn's The Listeners is still an excellent and thought-provoking science fiction read. As a bonus, it says a lot about circa 1970 attitudes, science, and technology.
Some critical reviewers have claimed a lack of character development while others criticize the character's development. Because what was "politically correct" forty-years ago is not what's politically correct today, this is not a legitimate literary criticism of a 1972 novel. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, "He's a barbarian because he believes the current attitudes of his little tribe are laws of the universe."
Gunn "stole" from Walter Sullivan's nonfiction We Are Not Alone in the same sense that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code "stole" from the nonfiction bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove "stole" from Teddy Blue Abbot's nonfiction book We Pointed Them North. Such "theft" seems to be more the rule than the exception in successful fiction.
It is not fair to say, however, that Carl Sagan stole from James Gunn in Sagan's later novel Contact because (1) Sagan was the source material for portions of Sullivan's We Are Not Alone and (2) Gunn cites and acknowledges Sagan's 1966 book "Intelligent Life in the Universe" in The Listeners. Sagan used his own nonfiction material, which had been previously used by Gunn.
If you don't like quality science fiction written for adults, feel free to go back to whichever boy wizard, vampire, fantasy material that you've enjoyed. If you want to read period hard science fiction about SETI written by a Grandmaster, then read James Gunn's The Listeners.
I was in heaven that late summer. This was real science fiction. This book was fantastic! There were no "starships" or "Deathstars." There were only well-drawn, complex, and brilliant characters using their scientific and technical gifts.Obviously, as one reviewer had already observed, this "first contact" novel was the inspiration for Carl Sagan's work "Contact." In my opinion, "The Listeners" is the better-written book, even though I will always remain a huge fan of the late - and forever great - Carl Sagan.
Secondary to the main plot the story also explores some hypothetical reactions to mankind's first encounter with other life. In the this respect I think the book is rather more optimistic than I myself would predict but irregardless of your take on this it does not detract from the core plot. And I agree with another reviewer that there are far too many quotations -- but they are clearly differentiated by font or page layout and can be easily skipped over if they get to be a bit much.
In summary, I highly recommend the book for the creative and satisfying core plot, but you may find yourself skipping some of the padding.
The entire second chapter was page after page of external quotes all basically saying the same thing. Really, I'm serious... Not one word by the author to further the plot, build characters, or anything else. Just quote after redundant quote. Come on! Enough already! After reading the third chapter (about 1/4 through the book) I've just given up... It's not worth the effort expended to suffer through the dribble. Do yourself a favor and steer clear. I'm a voracious reader and I read all kinds of different genres... Unfortunately boring, pompous, and slow are just not genres I can tolerate.
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