As a recording engineer, produce, writer and self-styled coniseaur of audio books myself, I tend to be on the critical side. Very few productions achieve five star ratings by my hand, as, in order to earn such an accolade, they must excel equally in the fields of writing style, production quality and narrative performance. On the subject of the latter, because I have worked with voiceover talent for several years, I know how rare it is for an author to effectively and forensically deliver his or her own work. In fact, it is rare for an individual to be truly talented in one, let alone both of the disciplines involved. That said, it is without any reservation whatsoever that I recommend Stardust. There are few authors who can claim peership with Gaiman's narrative brilliance. Add to that his superb delivery and you cannot deny him the title of "Master Storyteller."
-P. M. Selman
I like Steven King. A lot. That's why I regret having to pan this book. Although the story starts out strong, with the detailed narration and initial character development that King is so well known for, the plot arch quickly peters out. What, at first, promised to be a unique zombie story turns into a drab and un-engaging treck through thick prose. What's worse, King has obviously stopped caring about investing even the smallest modicum of research into his fiction. Virtually every reverence to modern technology and pop culture read with the sincerity of an aging parent trying to appeal to a hip teenager.
Although the beginning of the story promises deep character development, it doesn't deliver, and the characters (aside from the main character) remain cardboard cutouts. After the initial excitement of the zombie story fades away, this weird, nebulous psychic nonsense tangent ensues, which could have been a fun twist, but never develops. [Spoiler alert] Then this kid comes up with a far-flung hypothesis that only an old man who knows nothing at all about computers could come up with, and there you have it: instant denouement.
The climax of the action doesn't really make sense either, but even that would have been forgivable if the end of the story had been rewarding. It isn't. Instead, King pulls a poorly-veiled version of the ending of IT out of his bag of tricks and grafts it on. I'd recommend King to any reader, but not this book.
I love zombie stories. In fact, I'm the webmaster of a major zombie-related website. This was just plain unlistenable. The story was completely 2-dimensional and the characters were both predictable and hard to sympathize with. Add to that some of the hands-down worst narration I've ever hear (for goodness sake, the guy sounds like he's narrating a movie trailer the whole time), and you got a recipe for pure shlock.
Okay, I know this might sound weird, but if Dostoyevsky were alive today, Steve Toltz could probably teach him a thing or two about the nature of misanthropy. Still, A Fraction of the Whole manages to push the envelope of absurd to the very limits of transgressional fiction, while remaining humorous enough to sustain most reader's attention spans. The thing is, Toltz's characters are so incredibly hard to sympathize with, that you're likely to find yourself trying hard to understand how they are a reflection of humanity as a whole. And from this effort, the truth of their "every man" identities becomes glaringly obvious.
Anyone who reads this story is likely to be both disgusted at the characters and reflected within them, all the while laughing despite this. Oh, and if you only like stories that wrap up nice and neat and fall into your lap during the death throws of their denouements — don't read this. However, if you're comfortable with the fact that life doesn't resolve itself like a Polaroid picture, then sit back, strap on a comfy pair of headphones, and enjoy one of the quirkiest tales you're likely to feast your ears on told by a pair of truly talented narrators whose performances are of rare quality.
If you enjoyed The Crying of Lot 49, then Inherent Vice is right up your alley. It follows the same kind of surreal yet linear structure of Pynchon's more accessible works, and, like The Crying of Lot 49, you will probably find that several passes are required to digest the novel. The best description I can give of the nature of Inherent Vice is that it is the kind of book you could imagine Hunter S. Thompson writing if he had any gift for fiction. It is an excellent piece of literature.
Condon's novel is a classic that will surely stand the test of time and enter the annals of American Literature as one of the definitive examples that reflects the culture of the United States during the epoch of technological advance and sociopolitical unrest known as the Cold War. On top of that, Christopher Hurt's expressive and engaging narration style only adds to this magnificent production.
On a personal note, I found myself sneaking off with my iPod, unable to limit myself to listening only during my commute. My only complaint is that I wish the novel had been longer so that I could have drawn out the pleasure of the experience a bit longer. I'm already looking forward to revisiting The Manchurian Candidate, and with so many audio books at my disposal, I rarely listen to any more than once.
It is far from lost on me that Fredrick Davidson put a great deal of effort and enthusiasm into this production. That said, his attempts at characterization, while spirited to say the least, were so very awful that I decided to spend the money on a different rendition of the story instead of suffer through the remainder of his performance. For instance, he portrays d'Artagnan with a caricature of a voice that might be appropriate for a stuck-up British dandy, similar in tone to Peter Sellers' role of Mandrake in the 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove." I kept expecting him to say "aHmmm... jolly good, yes" at any moment. His other character voices are bad, but d'Artagnan is insufferable. In addition to this, Davidson's pronunciation of French (as well as those words borrowed from other languages which frequently come up) is simply awful. Even the humblest actor should know better than to approach such a role with little or no preparation.
This story is a classic and my one star rating is solely based on the unacceptable voice acting. Please, get a copy of this amazing tale of adventure and gallantry. But DO NOT choose this one.
At first, I did not like Replay. The exposition of the protagonist's past life and first Replays develop slowly and drag out at times. The problem with the story's development is that it relies on the plot device of the protagonist "replaying" his life to sustain the audience's attention. The effect of such a plot device is to be sensational enough to carry the story for a while, but not indefinitely. Unfortunately, it took five hours before the plot germinated as a result of the introduction of the second major protagonist and the resulting thematic device. After that, Replay picks up considerably. The cycle of physical and spiritual rebirth reminded me of Ursula K. LeGuine's The Lathe of Heaven. Some of the description was a bit dense and on the long side, but where the writing style succeeded, the composition flourished. Ultimately, I'm glad I gave Replay a second (or maybe third) chance and absorbed what it had to offer.
I couldn't stop listening. This is the story I've always been missing. Like Stardust, Nevewhere retains some of the qualities of a fairy tale while appealing to adults. Anyone who's ever felt too deeply "stuck" in reality can relate to Richard's serendipitous quest in London Below. And, not to spoil anything, but I believe that Neverwhere has one of the best executed conclusions I've read.
Perhaps it's better than nothing...
But it is a shame that, as important as The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas is to the American literary and historical traditions, both versions available to Audible listeners are woefully deficient.
The narrators of either version--Charles Turner (this one) and Jonathan Reese (the other)--possess all of the timing skill of child actors performing a cold readings of Shakespeare and possess the vocal inflective talents expected of people who are nearly stone deaf. Considering that Douglas was one of the greatest oratory talents in the history of the United States, these grossly deficient narrators' inept representations of his great rhetorical work is an insult to his memory.
In addition to the undeniable technical insufficiencies that render listening nearly unbearable, neither version includes the essential "qualifying" documents written by William Lloyd Garrison or Wendell Phillips that are representative of slave narratives and inseparable reminders of the disenfranchisement of black people even in the free North.
If you still feel you must purchase one version or the other, that which is narrated by Turner has a more informative introduction at the cost of a laughably wretched narrator; and the version with Reese is slightly less talentless, with only a brief introduction, but even the highest quality (4) format has consistent low-bitrate digital distortion throughout. Since I find the introduction of either version to be sub-academic (and thus not worth the bother), my recommendation would be the Reese narration.
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