Durham, NC USA | Member Since 2001
I quite often listen to audiobooks with my kids, when I saw this short (short!) story pop up with the description "The brave Japanese warrior Fujiwara Hidesato was always in search of action and adventure..." I was quickly interested.
My kids are actually quite accomplished and discerning listeners. They've enjoyed Roald Dahl reading his own "Fantastic Mr. Fox". They've enjoyed Neil Gaiman reading his own "Odd and the Frost Giants". They've enjoyed Emma Thompson reading her own "The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit". (And re-listen again and again to their favorites -- my son has been on Marc Brown's "Francine Believe it or Not" (from his Arthur stories) for a good long while.)
Our first listen was in the car -- a 13 minute story is about perfect for a drive to or from an errand. Both kids (my son is 6 and my daughter 4.5) listened with rapt attention, with a few questions, e.g. "What is a quiver?" But the true test is whether they request a re-listen. (I know this from telling them my own stories; no matter how proud I might be, and how I think they liked it the first time, a second hearing? Most likely, not a chance.) Well, this one did pass that test, both kids wanted to hear it again later, and again listened attentively.
The story adapts a Japanese fairy tale "My Lord Bag of Rice" in which a young warrior Fujiwara no Hidesato encounters a dragon princess and slays a giant centipede for her, earning magical gifts. In other versions, rather than turning into a princess, the dragon becomes a "strange small man" -- the eponymous Dragon King, but other essentials remain. It's told quite straightforwardly and to a young reader's understanding, with a few possibly new words to consider (e.g. "quiver", above) and some vivid visual descriptions, particularly of the giant centipede's emergence from the mountain. There are some typical fairy tale features here (naturally Hidesato has three, and only three, arrows, and needs each and every one of them) but overall it was definitely something different for both me and the kids and we enjoyed it.
Some nitpicks on the (overall excellent) narration and production:
* Pronunciation of "horror" was a teensy bit suspect
* Gaps between sections were overall much too long - particularly next to last or so.
* Conversely, gaps at beginning and in particular the end were too short.
* One section - the first appearance of the centipede on the mountain - was noticeably quiet compared to the rest.
These are noticeable and fixable issues which (other than "horror" which is I suppose acceptable) I would expect a professional production to correct. I do have another suggestion for future releases: A good choice of intro and (in particular) outtro music would have been excellent improvements here. The story does (as fairy tales often do) end abruptly, just in time for the closing credits to rush right in, dispelling the created mood.
I've never heard Ken MacMillan narrate before and he seemed exceedingly well cast, and did a good job with the story, with enough animation in his reading to keep kids interested. Overall: definitely pick this one up for your wee listeners, though I do hope Nation9 fixes some of the production glitches, and make sure you are careful to not use a credit rather than the retail/member price.
Nation9 also has produced an Android App which combines text, illustrations, animation, and narration, and a Kindle version which has at least some of the same illustrations as well, minus the narration and animation. These aren't applicable to me (I don't have such a device) but the App might be of interest for listeners as well.
In Authority, VanderMeer pivots from the first-person journal of the unnamed biologist (read by Carolyn McCormick) which introduced “Area X” in Annihilation to an exploration of a different, though as uncanny and surreal, terrain: the organization which sent her into “Area X” in the first place, the Southern Reach itself. We do see the biologist often in Authority, but it is through the eyes of agent/operative John Rodriguez (aka “Control”), newly appointed acting director of the Southern Reach, interrogating her after her reappearance along with the other survivors of the expedition depicted in Annihilation. Control finds offices in decay and disarray, a shrinking staff divided into factions loyal to the previous director and “lifers” who are in it for the weird science and/or have nowhere else, really, to go. Throughout, Control reports his progress and findings — often couched — to The Voice, a shrouded, mysterious figure known only as a (digitally masked) voice on the phone. The cast of characters here each have layers and motivations — usually inscrutable — of their own: Grace, the assistant director who believes the previous director is still alive; Cheney, the head of the science department; and fellow scientist Whitby, who frequently acts as Control’s guide. I found the Southern Reach in Authority to act as both a metaphor for the many fragments of our own labyrinthine consciousnesses while also a rejection of such abstraction or disaggregation; an organization gone feral after decades of attempting to understand the incomprehensible, having stared too long into the abyss. Meanwhile Control’s expedition into its hierarchies and storage rooms and film archives plays with and against reader expectations: again we must question the reliability of our narrator, of the purpose and use of evidence and rationality in the context of such a narrative in the first place. VanderMeer creates mystery, unease, and an escalation of the compulsion behind this series: what is “Area X”?
Narrated by Bronson Pinchot for Blackstone Audio, the audiobook is, again, fantastic, cementing my feeling that Pinchot is one of the best narrators in the business (from non-fiction like How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick’s Robotic Resurrection to the wide-ranging accents of Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides and Last Call, to Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree). Pinchot’s characterizations of Grace (annoyed, Southern, mistrustful of Control), Cheney (bombastic, seemingly oblivious), Whitby (hesitant, waffling, couching), linguist Jessica Hsyu, and indeed “Ghost Bird”, the biologist from Annihilation are all spot-on. On the latter it’s really, really interesting to get a third-person perspective on the biologist, who remains a bit flat in affect but with something else waiting underneath. Pinchot also does something a bit subtle in the first chapters: he starts voicing Control’s dialogue with a soft Hispanic accent, which slowly disappears until being read with a neutral accent. Is his identity so quickly swallowed up by the Southern Reach? It’s just one more of the layers-within-layers that draws us ever deeper in. As the sense of unease, of wrongness, of looking where we should not be looking grows (to me drawing connections between the Southern Reach of Authority and the Coburn National Laboratory and Observatory in Robert Jackson Bennett’s American Elsewhere), Pinchot’s narration matches it, tension for tension, finally bursting apart like a puffball mushroom and letting the ideas aloft like spores across the terroir of the transformed landscapes, closing after a novel with a more thriller pacing of half-hour chapters with an extended last chapter three times that length which is impossible to put down. In the end, Authority like Annihilation stands alone; one can read the other without having read (or having to read) the other; reading Authority without Annihilation may if anything add to the mysteriousness at hand, though of course each offers additional layers of context for the other. Also: both novels offer by their final pages a certain closure to dramatic arcs of decision and action, while of course inviting (if not compelling!) further expeditions.
Lagoon By Nnedi Okorafor is the World Fantasy Award winning author’s first novel for adults since 2010′s Who Fears Death. Narrated By Ben Onwukwe (known for his role in London’s Burning) and Adjoa Andoh (known for her roles in Dr. Who and EastEnders) for Hodder & Stoughton, the audiobook is really well done. Onwukwe handles most of the mainline narration, with Andoh providing the introduction and filling in for a few vignettes as well as providing all of the female voices “inline” with Onwukwe’s reading. Both narrators display quite a range, from multiple “American” accents to diverse African (Nigeria, Ghana, pidgin English) to British ex-pats and more; from simple dialogue to guttural screams, both actors give fantastic performances. At first, the “inline” insertions are a bit jarring, but as the audiobook progresses it becomes more natural and seamless to the ear. Inspired by “Wizard of the Crow, Under the Dome (the novel), Nollywood movies, and District 9″, Lagoon is a story of first alien contact, Lagos, Nigeria, and (principle among the protagonists) Adaora, a marine biologist. Okorafor’s aliens are different — upon high-magnification examination, Adaora discovers that they are not composed of cellular material at all, but rather billions of tiny metallic crystals — who can shapeshift, read thoughts, and are quite serious when they say that they bring “change” — a keyword refrain that I read as an homage to Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Written with a cinematic sensibility, along with the primary thrust of the story (Adaora, rapper Anthony, and soldier Agu trying desperately amidst the chaos of rioting Lagos to bring alien ambassador Ayodele together with the popular but ineffective Nigerian president) there are many, many sub-plots afoot, from a “born-again” church’s bishop hoping to use Ayodele, to small-time 419 scammers preparing to upgrade to kidnapping, to (as is perhaps a defining characteristic of Okorafor’s work to date) the intersection of science fiction and mythology: ghosts, gods, trees, animals, the ocean itself. Highly recommended.
When I started reading about this book, I spent far too many hours trying to come up with my dream narrator for it. Somehow I never considered McCormick, the voice of The Hunger Games, but from the first line she is fantastic. Her laconic, detached mainline narration perfectly suited to the biologist's clinical, scientific mind, and it is the biologist's narrative voice, through the structure of the novel as her definitive account left in a journal, which, detail by detail, flashback by flashback, brings depth both to the mysteries of "Area X" and to her character. McCormick does not employ too much in the way of vocal gymnastics to differentiate the few characters -- just enough to characterize them effectively and succinctly as, one presumes, the biologist herself might do. The principal exception to this is her work on the voice of the psychologist, the designated leader of the expedition, which is given a decidedly (almost British-schooled?) formal turn, a flavor which makes McCormick's outstandingly dynamic work with her later in the novel stand out all the more strikingly. On the story: from the first pages, the narrative -- of an all-female 12th expedition to a mysterious "Area X" after 11 previous and mostly catastrophic expeditions -- is driven by a compulsion, a both scientific and inescapably personal curiosity to answer the question of: what lies at the tower's base? This tower, which is not even supposed to be here, which does not appear on any map or in any record of "Area X"? This curiosity grows further into fear-yet-we-must-see territory as the first foray into the tower reveals strange words written, glowing, breathing, alive? on the walls of the tower, heading down. We find the mysteries of Area X and "The Southern Reach" growing deeper and broader both down into and in the surrounding, increasingly surreal landscape beyond the tower, setting up and leading naturally into further explorations in the successive books, but the biologist's journal stands alone as a completed arc, a completed story of inquiry, discovery, and transformation. It is a fantastic book and audiobook, highly recommended.
Narrator Fliakos reprises his turn as narrator for Sloan's narrative of dataviz, cryptography, secret societies, and bookstores -- though the tech and approaches and bookstore customers are decidedly 1969 rather than the 2010s of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Instead of Google Maps, we have actual maps. Instead of 3D visualization prototypes, Penumbra has to overlay his data the old fashioned way. But it's still the same grin-inducing voice of discovery and adventure in the story of Penumbra's arrival in San Francisco as I enjoyed in the novel. It's a story that could have slided right into the novel as a flashback narrative and not felt out of place. We see young aspiring psychohistorian Claude Novak, and several other characters from the novel either get name-dropped, slipped into conversation, or play roles nearly as large as young "junior acquisitions" man Penumbra's. "What do you seek in these shelves?" More stories. There still feels like there's plenty that could be told here, and I was delighted to be reminded just how much I enjoyed the audiobook of the novel.
In a crowded year of strong debut fantasy novels, "No Return" is a very strong contender. Beginning with an assured voice, a prologue of a pitiless landscape of an hallucinogenic salt lake, expanding out to a world whose currency is the powdered skin of an Elder race, populated by (among others) rival enclaves of warrior monks engaging in ritualized battles to defend and proselytize their competing faiths. There is a god with city-killing orbital kinetic ordinance at his whim; there are deeply weird and sexualized alchemistic magics; there are sentient constructs of magical metal spheres; there are dragons and ghosts.
The narrative is split along 5 principle points of view in a rotating fashion, across two primary storylines. In the first, it is a 'journey' narrative, in which we meet the three companions who form a bond as they travel to a massive gladiatorial tournament. These three are 1. a warrior monk, 2. a female sell-sword, and 3. a construct. In the other, it is a more political/academic setting of advanced magical research, and the power struggles (and competing lusts) of a senior mage and one of her more junior colleagues with experimental theories. These "outbound mages" make excursions to space, to observe the god and take measurements of his "spheres" -- the two smallest of which had been used centuries before to demonstrate the planet-killing power at hand.
The world builds and deepens and widens; the journey narrative treks us through disparate peoples and landscapes and histories, developing the characters and (through flashbacks) providing back stories as well. Throughout there's always the atmosphere of a deeper world at work, at mysteries not yet revealed. Who is the god Adrash, what does he want? Building toward dual climaxes in both narratives and powering on into denouement and stage-setting for a sequel, a lengthy epilogue serves to further widen the mysteries of this world by another deep breath. All in all, a very strong, no-holds-barred and emotionally impactful debut novel by Jernigan, whose short fiction I have followed on and off through M-BRANE SF and Asimov's. His is a bold, determined voice, with a razor's edge balance of rawness and assuredness; each character's point of view was distinct and fully realized. This is absolutely an heroic fantasy novel not to be missed.
I had never heard of the narrator John FitzGibbon before; presumably he was found by Audible through taking on stipend-eligible ACX titles. In any case he appears to be a US stage actor, and this training serves him exceedingly, exceedingly well. There are some passages of potentially uncomfortable content, from eviscerating violence to explicit sexual encounters. FitzGibbon does not shy away from any of these, nor over-emphasize in a campy way. His voices for each character are solid and distinct, bringing accents which accentuate the character's backgrounds. In particular his voice for the construct, Berun, is as outstanding a character voice as you'll find in audio.
I had not even read the back copy, and so had absolutely no idea what to expect. Maybe a fantasy set in a vaguely Scottish monastery, though full of the fantastic imagination and powerful writing I expected from the many recommendations I’ve received over the past few years for this book, also on my “first novels to be nominated for the World Fantasy Award” list. It turns out to be a novel of an endless war between angels and demons, re-cast and re-cast again and again through history and mythology from Enki to Enoch to Metatron. Much of the storyline is either contemporary, or set in a near future of VR and AR goggles. It is there a kinship with parts of Snow Crash is felt, though themes of deep linguistics and layers of archaelogy permeate the novel throughout. There’s a density of ideas and frame-shifting, mind-screwing avalanche of sensawunda that I can compare to only a few novels, like Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief or M. John Harrison’s Light. There’s also, through the multiple split by millenia and then decades timelines, somewhat reminiscent of Daren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, but a more apt comparison might be with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, with souls replaying their dances across multiple lives. But these don’t really capture what’s going on at all, either. It’s brilliantly original and creative, heartbreakingly personal and yet epic, fantastical yet with technological elements as well. Fantastic book. (And I haven’t even touched the plot… which is perhaps a bit disjointed, adding to the effect of amazement over the imaginative romping Duncan is doing across myths and history, with a bleak, devastating gut-punch of an ending, with a mouth full of dirt for dinner.) The narration — let me back up. So, this book in its novel form is presented in such a way, told in such a way, that there were doubts as to how well the narrative could be followed in audio. But Clark was fantastic. I’d never heard of him — this looks to have been his first professional narration, which boggles the mind. (It looks like he spent the better part of 2012 narrating a dozen of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels.) But he was wonderful: carrying Seamus’ Irish brogue, Metatron’s power, gritty when needed, soft when needed. A fantastic audiobook on top of a fantastic book.
The previous book in this series, 2010???s Children No More, was my entry point, and right away I was very taken both by the dark, scarred history of Jon (a genetically enhanced super-soldier), his relationship with Lobo (a sentient spaceship), and the world of mysterious jump gates, as well as Stechschulte???s narration ??? particularly his incredibly deep voice for the artificial voice of Lobo. When we left things off in Children No More, Jon and Lobo had been involved in fighting for the freedom, safety, and rehabilitation of child soldiers on an outpost planet. Here, the two answer a message from a lover in Jon???s past, and head to one of the power centers of human civilization. Jon must continue to hide his past and his powers ??? even from Lobo ??? but after discovering that his sister, Jenny, may still be alive, heads very much into the open (though undercover) via a wonderfully inventive scheme, falling in love again along the way. This is a science fiction book with plenty of high concepts and action (though again it???s primarily close quarters rather than massive ship-to-ship space battles) as well as well-done music fiction, and! also two honest to goodness, well done love stories. (And a third when you count, as you should, the familial love which drives Jon???s search for his sister.) It???s a book with a lot of heart, and Stechschulte???s gravelly, teeth-gritting lines bring it wonderfully to life. Both of the books I've read in the series can be read standalone, so: jump in anywhere.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks (nine last month; 70 last year), but recently I was having one of those ???I have 400 books on my to read list and still can???t pick what to read??? bouts of choice paralysis. Then I stumbled across my copy of Howl???s Moving Castle, bought on sale a year or two ago, and it was just what I needed. Narrated superbly by Jenny Sterlin, we follow Sophie Hatter, tragically the eldest of three sisters in a land of fairy tale rules and seven-league boots, after she???s cursed by a witch and transformed into an old crone. She gains entrance to the legendary moving castle of the wizard Howl and strikes a bargain with Calcifer, a fire demon, to be cured in exchange for freeing Calcifer from his contractual servitude to the wizard. It???s just a wonderful book with a wonderful protagonist in Sophie, who quickly embraces the authority to lecture and cajole that her apparent age gives her; a book which doesn???t take itself too seriously; and an audiobook which is done so well, so earnestly, and so authentically that those with an ear for dialects might begin to wonder why Howl speaks with a ???tapped r??? long before we find out what???s sewn across one of his shirts. I'm very glad indeed that the universe contains books like Howl???s Moving Castle. It was a delightful pit stop on a month of mostly Serious Business, superbly narrated, and highly recommended, and a book I look forward to sharing with my kids over the years.
OK. This is a fantastic work, the best new book of 2012 so far ??? dare I say, a decade-defining work which captures a snapshot of our medium future???s best hopes? There???s a solar system-spanning medium future of ???qubes??? (quantum computer AIs), terraforming and thousands of hollowed out asteroid ???terraria???, explorations of gender, and post-capitalist extra-terrestrial economies ??? amidst the grim passage from here to there through climate change, failed geoengineering fixes, and political and economic crises. There???s interstitial future history ???non-fiction??? excerpts. There???s an honest to goodness, memorable, building love story between the Mercurial Swan (an avant garde artist/architect/etc.) and Saturnine Wahram, a diplomat from Io. There???s even a (small) bit of policework from Inspector Jean Genette. The book opens well, builds and builds, with perhaps a bit of side-trackery on Venus, and other than some misgivings with some bits of the final resolution (and some stunning repeat stupidity from Swan) I was very much blown away by the novel. The overall planet-spanning plot works; the love story really works; it???s wonderful sf across the strata of setting, science, plot, and character. It???s on the longer side, but narrator Zimmerman plugs along without much drag behind her. She gives a mostly ???invisible narrator??? performance, not engaging in vocal gymnastics to develop strong accents, instead relying primarily on slight variations to distinguish speakers when necessary. Clean and crisply done, and well-suited to the work. Highly recommended.
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