Review of Two Plays For Voices by Neil Gaiman

February 28, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audio Drama - Neil GaimanTwo Plays For Voices
By Neil Gaiman; Performed by two Full Casts
2 CDs – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio / Seeing Ear Theater
Published: 2002
ISBN: 0060012560
Themes: / Fantasy / Angels / Vampires / Fairy Tales /

Stories included:
Snow Glass Apples
Once upon a time there lived a young princess with skin as white as snow, with hair as black as coal, with lips as red as blood. Most people think they know what happens to this young unfortunate girl. Most people are wrong. Tony-award winning actress Bebe Neuwirth stars as a wise Queen who wants nothing more than to reign over her kingdom peacefully but is forced to match wits with an inhuman child who has an unnatural taste for blood.

Full Cast List:
Bebe Neuwirth as the Queen ; Martin Carey as the Huntsman; Mark Evans as the Prince; Merwin Goldsmith as the Lord of the Fair; J.R. Horne as the Archbishop & Friar; Alissa Hunnicutt as the Maidservant; Randy Maggiore as a Soldier; Kate Simses as the Princess; Nick Wyman as the King

Murder Mysteries
In this mystery noir set in heaven’s City of Angels before the fall, the first crime has been committed. It is an awful one. While the angelic hosts labor to create the world and its workings, one of their number is mysteriously slain by one of their own. Raguel, Angel of Vengeance, is mandated by Lucifer to discover both motive and murderer in this holy dominion that had so recently known no sin. Golden Globe award winning Brian Dennehy stars as Vengeance.

Full Cast List:
Brian Dennehy as Raguel ; Anne Bobby as Tink’s Friend; Christopher Burns as Saraquael ; Thom Christopher as Lucifer ; Ed Dennehy as Zephkiel ; Michael Emerson as Narrator ; Traci Godfrey as Tinkerbell Richmond ; Evan Pappas as Phanuel

I find audio dramatizations to be generally inferior to straight unabridged readings. There are certainly exceptions; it is just my personal general experience. But every once in a while an exception is so forcefully good, so sweet and so right, it makes me question my general preference in total. And no audio drama thus far has shaken this conviction better than these two “plays for voices”.

I of course heard them both back when they first turned up on the Seeing Ear Theater website, and I was blown away then. I told everyone to go check it out, and I still send people to the site every now and then, but after hearing them on crystal clear CD I’ve decided that even though the website is free, the CD set is the preferred way to listen. The sound is exquisite, the packaging elegantly designed, and when they do decide to remove the wonderful collection of audio dramatizations that makes up the Seeing Ear Theater website collection I’d be kicking myself for not owning a hard copy of both of these amazing dramatizations. I should also note that like much of Neil Gaiman’s adult fantasy, both of these stories feature explicit sexual scenes.

So what makes this collection so great? Well, Gaiman’s unique storytelling gift has something to do with it – probably most to do with it if truth be told. But where Gaiman’s writing leaves off the adaptors pick up with the same skill level – and fail to spoil it.

My main complaint with audio dramatizations in general is that they tend to be “improvements” of the text rather than adaptations. Countless stories have been ruined by incautious adaptors who failed to respect, and in many cases even understand, the story they are adapting. This is most emphatically not the case with these two dramas. The cast and crew of both have achieved that same level of artisanship as Neil Gaiman himself. The casting is brilliant! Bebe Neuwirth, who most people would recognize from her film and television work, is a stage trained actress with two Tony awards to her credit. I can think of no one better than she for the role of the unfairly maligned queen in Snow Glass Apples. In Murder Mysteries, a bit more of an ensemble piece, two actors stand out as achieving similar greatness. Brian Dennehy in the lead role, and Michael Emmerson as the British accented narrator. But in lauding all three of these perfectly cast actors I must be careful to note that several uniformly talented players in their own right support them. Their parts may be small but they do them exceedingly well.

Much praise also must be given to sound designer John Colluci, who had a hand in nearly every Seeing Ear Theater production. The music, foley work and stereo effects are perfect. And of course the producer and director of both these dramatizations, Brian Smith deserves the highest praise. Without him neither would have been possible. Everything has come together in both these productions. There was not one small disappointment, not a single minor flaw, not one awkward moment. Two Plays For Voices is flawless, flawless, flawless.

Posted by Jesse Willis

The CBC Radio One program Sunday Showcase will be …

February 24, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, News 

SFFaudio News

Science Fiction Radio Drama - CBC Radio OneThe CBC Radio One program Sunday Showcase will be broadcasting the L.A. Theater works radio dramatization of Orson Welles’ version of H.G Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds on Sunday April 17 2005 at 10:00 p.m.. It will then be rebroadcast the next night on CBC Radio Two at 9:00 p.m. (9:30 NT) on CBC Radio Two. Listeners outside of Canada can tune in via the RealAudio broadcasts. This was released as an audiobook as well back in 1997 (ISBN: 0807235628).

The Official Sunday Showcase announcement reads:
“From Welles’ original script, the quantum leap of the end of the world! This new LA Theatreworks production stars Star Trek actors Leonard Nimoy, Gates McFadden, and Brent Spiner. The War of the Worlds was produced in the USA by Susan Albert Lowenberg for LA Theatre Works.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Foundation by Isaac Asimov

February 22, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Foundation by Isaac AsimovFoundation
By Isaac Asimov; Read by Scott Brick
7 CD’s, 9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books on Tape
Published: 2005 (Re-issued with new narrator)
ISBN: 1415917760
Themes: / Science Fiction / Psychohistory / Galactic Empire / Energy / Science /

I could write this review in one sentence: A first-rate science fiction classic performed by a top-notch narrator. Whew! I’m exhausted. I better relax with another audiobook…

But first, a few more comments. Foundation is one of Isaac Asimov’s earliest works. One of the joys of reading this novel is recognizing it as an influence on so many other works in science fiction. Since Foundation was published, countless empires have risen and fallen in the pages of science fiction novels and on flickering movie screens. Most obviously, the latest Star Wars movie includes a visit to Coruscant, a planet that is one huge city, just like Asimov’s Trantor.

Like I, Robot, another of Asimov’s best known books, this is not a novel, but a collection of stories. The first (Book 1) is called “The Psychohistorians”, which follows Gaal Dornick as he visits the planet Trantor for the first time. Trantor is a planet completely covered in city – it serves as the capital of the Galactic Empire. Dornick visits Hari Seldon, who is under persecution for predicting the fall of the empire using psychohistory, a mathematical method for predicting probable futures for large numbers of people. The story concludes with the establishment of the Foundation, where a group of scientists will be charged with collecting all human knowledge into a great Encyclopedia.

Book Two is “The Encyclopedists”. It is 30 years after the first story, and it is here that the reader first encounters Salvor Hardin, a political rival of the mayor of Terminus, the name of the planet where the Foundation resides. The story is of a political struggle between two factions, with Hardin winning the day in grand fashion as a holographic Hari Seldon makes his first appearance to tell folks what’s really going on here.

Book Three, “The Mayors”, again stars Salvor Hardin, much later in his career. He is now being challenged as he challenged others in the previous story. Hardin has discovered that the only thing he’s got that surrounding systems don’t have is knowledge of atomics (a knowledge that has been lost at the edge of the empire). So, to keep from being attacked, he creates a sort of religion out of atomic science, trains “priests” to deal with it, and sends these priests out to threatening worlds to keep them at bay. Works great, but now there’s a challenge.

“The Traders” is Book 4, again taking place years after the previous story. Hardin is long gone, and the Foundation now is home to a sub-class called Traders, who are largely independent, but still loyal to the Foundation…

…who evolve into “The Merchant Princes”, the subject of Book 5, the longest installment. The traders have grown rich, and there’s a serious threat to the Foundation. Questions about the further validity of the “religion” are questioned, toss in some espionage, and the struggle is on.

Scott Brick does an amazing job with Asimov’s work. This first book was published in 1951, so Brick has to say things like “Great leaping galaxies!” while keeping a straight face. Apart from these occasional exclamations, the book works extremely well here in 2005. Asimov deserves his place amongst the Grand Masters of the genre, and Scott Brick’s performance adds a worthy dimension to the classic. I’m very much looking forward to hearing the rest of the trilogy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Robert J. Sawyer dropped a few more hints about th…

February 19, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

SFFaudio News

Science Fiction Audio Drama - CBC EmanationsRobert J. Sawyer dropped a few more hints about the new CBC Radio One Science Fiction anothology radio drama series Emanations:

“Michael Lennick and I had a meeting at the CBC Broadcasting Centre to go over the second draft of our SF radio-drama pilot with the people Michael likes to refer to as “the boys downtown.” The script will be produced on March 17; our series is an anthology of standalone SF radio dramas with the overall title Emanations. The pilot script, “Birth,” deals with the accidental emergence of sentience among exploratory robots on Mars.”

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of State Of Fear By Michael Crichton

February 16, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Science Fiction Audiobook - State of Fear by Michael CrichtonState Of Fear
By Michael Crichton; Read by George Wilson
Audible.com DOWNLOAD – 18 hours and 7 min [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2004
Themes: / Science Fiction / Techno-thriller / Global Warming / Ecology / Tsunami / Ice-Age / Eco-Terrorism /

A review by Guest Reviewer Barry

In Paris, a physicist dies after performing a laboratory experiment for a beautiful visitor. In the jungles of Malaysia, a mysterious buyer purchases deadly cavitation technology, built to his specifications. In Vancouver, a small research submarine is leased for use in the waters off New Guinea. And in Tokyo, an intelligence agent tries to understand what it all means.

I listened to Crichton’s State of Fear mainly because of a nicely done
interview with Crichton by Beth Anderson, available for free on Audible.com.

I’ve always been a bit of a Crichton fan since his first book The Andromeda Strain. The last book I heard of his, Timeline, seemed kind of silly and cartoonish and I was eager to get it over with. But Beth’s interview with Crichton was interesting and I expected something a little more mature. Boy was I wrong.

This is in many, many ways a very childish and often boring book. The characters aren’t even fleshed out enough to call them thin. Thin implies some dimensionality. Their parts in the story, which is no story, are contrived to enable them to give speeches explaining Crichton’s views while fending off killers and eco-terrorists, poisoners, lawyers and interesting dialog.

Crichton is convinced that the ecology movement has been overtaken by greedy lawyers
and that we’re being sold a bill of goods about global warming. While I can’t help but agree that the scenario he paints would be scary if it were real I don’t see much sign of it being real in the world I live in.

He makes some very good points about studies by universities and foundations being as biased as those of industry. But he seems to think that we the people are all firmly convinced that global warming is a reality because of the PR campaigns of these money-seeking foundations and a press who is always willing to jump on any bandwagon that attracts an audience. And while both of those things are easy to believe, I don’t see any sign that everyone believes that global warming is a fact and I don’t think I’ve seen attempts by the media to convince me of that.

Yes there have been pro shows on TV and articles treating global warming as a fact but the majority of those I’ve seen treat it as an open question; as a possibility.

His major point seems to be that we have a lot of questions and not many answers and that we should be asking more questions and studying and learning more before we try to insist on answers. I agree with that and I agree that it often doesn’t happen that way in
life. But it often does happen that way.

The book has almost no story of interest; no characters of interest at all; very little suspense with the exception of a couple of very surprising and tense and exciting scenes; and very little to offer.

To add injury to insult, this is a very badly made audiobook. It’s read by George Wilson, who I’ve heard and liked in other books, and it’s done badly. He doesn’t give us any way to distinguish the characters in a dialog and it’s often not possible to figure out who is
saying what. If there had been a story this would have hindered it terribly.

He sometimes reads a line badly and then reads it over. I guess that’s the editor’s fault, not the narrator’s; but it makes for bad narration from the listener’s point of view.

And, just to make sure the insult and injury were painful, Audible put their section markers right before chapter headings, which consist of the date and time, so that when you lose your place and are trying to find it, if you don’t remember the exact date and time of the section you were in, traversing the sections makes them all sound the same. That made finding my place after drifting off to sleep; a serious problem in this book; very difficult.

Everyone who got their hands on this book seemed to screw it up a little more. I probably even downloaded it badly. For all you Crichton fans, I suggest hearing Airframe if you haven’t already. It’s one of his best.

For you who want to be up in arms about a problem and don’t care if it’s a real problem or not, listen to Rush Limbaugh or something. This book is just too boring.

Renting audiobooks

February 14, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

Renting audiobooks is a cost-effective way of getting your hands on some very good stuff. How does it work? With the companies listed here, you select a book or two that is sent to you in a self-addressed stamped box. Usually you keep the book for 30 days, after which you put the book back in the box, tape it closed, then drop it in a mailbox.

Blackstone Audio
Science Fiction Audiobooks - Blackstone AudioBlackstone Audio has been building a fantastic science fiction and fantasy collection. Their narrators are generally good. Some of their latest include Spider Robinson’s Callahan books and Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy. They also carry titles by Catherine Asaro, Charles Sheffield, Robert Silverberg, and Lois McMaster Bujold. They also produce MP3-CD versions of much of their catalog, which makes purchasing the titles outright very attractive.

Recorded Books, Inc.
Science Fiction Audiobooks - Recorded BooksRecorded Books has the biggest collection of high quality science fiction and fantasy titles out there. Their narrators are just excellent, and include Frank Muller, George Guidall, Rob Inglis, and Richard Ferrone, among many others. To name a few titles: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, several Robert A. Heinlein titles, Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, and Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the TalentsDoomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis are also here. Their rental plan now includes a Netflix-style option – for $30/month you can have as many titles as you can hear.

Simply Audiobooks
Science Fiction Audiobooks  - Simply Audiobooks
Simply Audiobooks has taken the Netflix model and applied it to audiobooks. Unlike the two options above, who with just a few exceptions rent only their own titles, Simply Audiobooks has a very nice Science Fiction and Fantasy selection from publishers across the spectrum. They currently charge $19.95 per month for unlimited rentals, and they invite you to try it out FREE.

And last, don’t forget to check out your local library. Many libraries are building fine audiobook collections in response to patron requests.

NOTE: Books on Tape no longer rents audiobooks.

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