Our ongoing series reviewing audio adaptations of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror works. Note that these reviews may contain spoilers.
By John J. Joex
Book Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars (Combined Rating for All Three Books)
Audio Book Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars
Synopsis: The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher consists of three books: The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead, and The Pool of Fire. The story takes place a few hundred years in the future when the Earth is lorded over by giant metal tripods that have destroyed modern civilization and have set humanity back to technological and societal levels akin to the Medieval times. At the age of fourteen, all humans are capped with a metal, mesh fitting attached to their head which makes them docile and obedient to the tripods. However, there is still a small group of humans who have retained their free will and have started a resistance movement. One of these people, the “vagrant” Ozymandias, approaches a boy who lives in England, Will Parker, shortly before he is to be capped to recruit him to the resistance. Will agrees to go join with Ozymandias who gives him a map to the “White Mountains” (the Swiss Alps). Will flees from his village with his cousin Henry and along the way they meet up with a French boy named Jean-Paul (whom they nickname “Beanpole”). They reach the White Mountains after several adventures and narrowly escaping the clutches of pursuing tripods. Once there, they become involved with a plot to infiltrate the domed cities of the tripods (there are three across the Earth) and then later in a desperate attempt to destroy these cities.
Review/Commentary: The Tripods books are a young adult series written by John Christopher back in the late 60’s, but they have broader appeal beyond their target audience and have had some degree of staying power probably because many older science fiction fans fondly remember reading them in their younger years. I recall these as among the earliest genre books that I encountered along with the classics by H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne and more. I read them as a kid and have revisited them several times since then, and seeing the audio book versions prompted me to give them yet another spin.
As noted, these are written for a younger audience and thus take a rather simplistic approach to their story, glossing over some details and keeping the action moving at the expense of more indepth story-telling. Not that this is a stumbling point for the books, but I mention it just to set expectations for those approaching them for the first time. What the books succeed at is capturing the sense of wonder, mystery, and adventure that appeals to its youthful audience as well as those still young of heart. The books are definitely quite fun to read even if they are a bit sparse at times.
This series definitely offers a good introduction to science fiction literature for younger readers, but as mentioned, older readers can enjoy them as well. Though as a note, it was targeted specifically at a young male audience, so it has very little in the way of female characters. Christopher did write a prequel book in the late 80’s that goes back and chronicles the actual invasion (When the Tripods Came). That book is okay, but has a very different feel from the original trilogy and is not essential to understanding the story (the events elaborated on in the prequel book are touched on in The City of Gold and Lead). Also, the BBC did a television adaptation of the books in the 80’s. It ran for two seasons and covered the first two books, but was unfortunately cancelled before the final book could be adapted.
Comments on the Audio Book: The audio book versions of the Tripods Trilogy are narrated by William Gaminara, and as I started to listen to the first book I originally felt he might not have been the best choice as voice talent. The books themselves are narrated in the first person by the lead character Will Parker and it seems strange to hear the elderly voice of Gaminara reading for him. It seemed that it would have made more sense to have a younger voice reading the books since this is all told from Will’s perspective. But I found that I quickly warmed to Gaminara’s narration, especially considering the various accents he leant to the reading. So even though I had some initial reservations, I ultimately believe he was an excellent choice as narrator. Each of the books is relatively brief in length and you can get through the audio versions of all three in about sixteen hours (less time than the first Dune book and much less time than Hyperion). There is also an audio book version of the prequel available which Gaminara reads as well. All of these are available for download from Audible.com.