After dropping to six audiobooks in August, I downsized my listening even further, to the tune of just five in September. (And at that, a bit of a cheat perhaps, considering I’m counting the 1.5-hour podcast of a novella, but hey — my column, my rules, and it was very enjoyable besides.) The month includes the second half and then some of my Neil Gaiman re-read and Neil Gaiman Presents study, ahead of going to a wonderful storytelling event which featured Gaiman and at which I was entirely too chicken to approach him and tell him how much I’d been enjoying his audiobook selections. Anyway, onto the audiobooks:
REVIEWS: (Standard disclaimer of this being early November and the reviews being much more off-the-cuff than I’d like. But! I am catching up…)
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, read by Gaiman for Harper Children’s Audio — By far the most listened-to audiobook in my collection is Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, by dint of having listened to it dozens and dozens of times with my kids. My kids are not, however, quite old enough for the ghouls and still more disturbing Sleer, and so this was an adventure of my own into Gaiman’s multiple award winning novel for young — but not too young — readers. Nobody “Bod” Owens has survived his family’s assassination by “the man Jack” and become adopted as a toddler into a terrifically interesting English (and older and other things) graveyard. There are some quite interesting characters, all well voiced by Gaiman. Silas, the caretaker, who can handle modern money and trips to the store. Ms. Lepescu, who visits to keep an eye on Bod while Silas is mysteriously absent. There are ghouls — wonderful, wonderfully horrible ghouls — and hounds and evil, dark things. There’s a girl. And a marvelously hard — but not too hard? — ending, that as much as I would like to quibble with things here and there about it, feels much more right than wrong.
- Light by M. John Harrison, read by Julian Elfer for Neil Gaiman Presents — M. John Harrison’s LIGHT occupies well the sfnal space between Pohl’s GATEWAY and Hannu Rajaniemi’s THE QUANTUM THIEF. And add a touch of strange from Mieville, and modern grit from non-genre Banks. And its own unique voice. Excellent narration here, with only one very short section of too-soft shadow voices near the end marring an otherwise pitch-perfect production from newcomer (to me, and the US Audible listings, at least) Elfer. Told in a bit of a fragmentary way, following multiple timelines both present and (at least three?) future. The future is weird enough to almost be unrecognizable, though not as incomprehensible as Rajaniemi’s it is more tactile and real, even while it is nebulous and defies quantization. The present timeline covers a deeply disturbed serial killer who is also leading a research project on quantum computing. The future comprises a motley crew of ship captains, VR addicts, consortiums, and of course the Kefahuchi Tract, a space-time anomaly described as “a singularity without an event horizon” which is a fascinating piece of sf.
- Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, read by Kushner, Dion Graham, Katherine Kellgren, and others for Neil Gaiman Presents — imagine an Elizabethan secondary world of The Hill, where wealthy aristocrats impress each other with parties and play dangerous political games, and Riverside, hovel upon hovel of the working poor. Men are openly and amorously bisexual, and the lordly settle their disputes of honor by hiring swordsmen to duel. The best of these swordsmen might be Richard St. Vier, a resident of Riverside who cares much more for the swordplay itself than the money or any luxury. St. Vier’s talents become a bit too sought-after, and the high-stakes political maneuvers are turned up to a quick boil. There is a fantastic duel, a well-done relationship between St. Vier and Alec, and even some twists and turns of courtroom drama. On this “Illuminated” production with some scenes voiced by a full cast of voice actors, and lovely short bits of music, it was quite well produced, with Kushner providing the bulk of the mainline narration. I also enjoyed the 2002 “Acknowledgements” section, in which Kushner specifically thanked Tor editor David G. Hartwell for championing the book.
- The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, read by Emily Janice Card for Random House Audio — A bit uneven in terms of the narrator (age 11 vs. ability and such) but some interesting things going on in this book-of-all-categories (adult/YA, literary/sf, crossing over into “you got your X into my Y” territory) recently named to Publishers Weekly’s year’s best list in adult fiction. Personally, I would expect that our fragmented society would collapse into chaos much more quickly and deeply than depicted here, but again, some interesting examinations here: both a coming of age novel of pre-teen Julia in her California suburb, and (though not focused on the science or sf aspects more directly) an Earth whose rotation is slowing, minutes every day. People try to adapt in a few ways — attempting to keep up with the sun and elongating their sleep cycles, or sticking to the old 24-hour clock. As the “days” pile up into dozens of hours long, will vegetation fail? How fast can society adapt and survive? Well cast for narrator Emily Janice Card. Solid ending line, though the ending did feel rushed a bit. Nice outtro music, too, a touch I always appreciate.
- “The Cage” by Jeff VanderMeer — a “giant sized” episode of PodCastle with Jeff VanderMeer’s dark and Weird Ambergris-set novella from City of Saints and Madmen (also included in the World Fantasy Award winning anthology The Weird)read quite well by MarBelle. A buyer of collectibles and odds and ends goes to an estate sale, also the site of a brutal murder and maiming. Among the items is a cage. Fantastically creepy and, well, weird, the cage may or may not contain something. Something terrible. Very enjoyable story and narration. (Though MarBelle might have been battling a bit of a cold on this one.)
Then! I took a week off of listening to anything, in which I made significant progress towards getting Bull Spec #8 out the door. And near the end of the month, I started Hal Duncan’s Vellum.
In podcasts: In addition to “The Cage”, I also listened to another wonderful short story from Tim Pratt, “The Secret Beach”, also on PodCastle, read by one Dave Thompson. (Hey, Dave! Now, how do I lock this post from editing…)
October plans: This being the end of October, I again know what I will be reviewing in the next column: Vellum by Hal Duncan, “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” by Nancy T. Collins, Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, V Wars by Jonathan Maberry, Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman, Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson, and Fantastic Imaginings by Stefan Rudnicki. (Though I’m hoping to have my review of Rudnicki’s anthology out in time for its Nov. 15 physical media release.)