Birthday Reviews: Jack Womack’s “Audience”

Birthday Reviews: Jack Womack’s “Audience”

The Horns of ElflandJack Womack was born on January 8, 1956. His novel Elvissey, the fifth book in his six-book Dryco series, received the Philip K. Dick Award in 1994, tying with John M. Ford’s Growing Up Weightless. Womack has also worked in New York as a publicist in the publishing industry.

“Audience” was written for the anthology The Horns of Elfland, edited by Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Donald G. Keller. It was reprinted in Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Eleventh Annual Edition the next year and again in 2001 by Mike Ashley in The Mammoth Book of Fantasy. The story was nominated for the World Fantasy Award.

“Audience” was originally written for an anthology about music and Womack took that idea and decided to explore the importance and ephemeral nature of sound. His character tries to seek out smaller museums when traveling, avoiding the large, well-known places like the Louvre in favor of out of the way places which offer unknown exhibits. One of these museums is the Hall of Lost Sounds, which contains small rooms which allow visitors to hear collected sounds which no longer can be heard in their natural place.

Just as Proust noted how smells can trigger memories, Womack uses sounds to do the same thing. His curator gives a tour of the museum, commenting on where in his own life each of the lost sounds come from. The story also points out that sounds can change over time. A person’s voice as a teenager sounds different from their voice as an adult, and without recordings, completely vanishes. Even with recordings, the way a person hears their own voice can never be recaptured.

“Audience” is less a story and more a slice of life rumination which teaches the reader to examine their senses and memories in new ways.

Reprint reviewed in the anthology The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Eleventh Annual Edition, edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a fifteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Big White Men—Attack!” in Little Green Men—Attack! Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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I’ve read one book by Jack Womack – “Random Acts of Senseless Violence” – a dystopia set in a near future USA – told through the eyes of a young girl – now seeming to be coming quite true.

I’ve referenced this book numerous times here and elsewhere, not to run around “The sky is falling” but rather to point out how reality can trump fiction.

This shouldn’t be a spoiler – because its in the beginning of the book – and a vehicle to explain how a prosperous upper middle class family fell into poverty to quickly;

The girl’s father was a scriptwriter for film companies. Well respected and very much in demand. But – due to a great financial crisis no one dared mention they were too afraid to risk on making new movies. So, they re-released old movies with fanfare catering to people’s memories of way back when they were younger and the country was more prosperous. So, less and less need for scriptwriters, etc.

This was used by most one star reviewer trolls to rip the book – after all in the original Great Depression we had a booming film industry, no?

But – real life can trump fiction:

Look at real life.

We have – let’s focus on the film industry – a film industry afraid of change and afraid of having a disaster of a film – of making the same “Safe Bets” again and again.

But – they don’t “Re-Release” films.

They Re-MAKE them.

They spend like 10x the money to do high gloss re-makes of what were often shoestring productions that only got good because there was little investor meddling so the film which had a stupid idea stood out. But the re-make – again the investor machine – is stupid, bland and generic – just really good visual and special effects.

And they bomb. Again and again. And they re-make them again and again. And they are largely hated, even the generic 51% is going “Meh” as often as “baaahhh…” But they have lots and lots of money and momentum and likely tons of tax breaks and write-offs that would have been criminal even a few decades ago.

And the studios can’t admit they are wrong. So they keep doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Chewing up nostalgia and regurgitating it.

So, let’s see – he didn’t predict the broadband changes in the internet and ‘piracy’ etc. even though written when streaming media and broadband expansion were around the corner and predicted openly… Without those very likely would have been ‘re-releases’. But now any studio can go “Disney vault” for DVD re-release though streaming is so prevalent that is less necessary as home rental/purchase is a cheap option. But overall did the stupid denial reactions to social crisis, though again reality overrode him.

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