“Once upon a midnight dreary,
While I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…”
— A.E. Poe, The Raven
That’s how the poem begins, drawing a pall of melancholy over us with its first syllables. This audio book, however, takes a little more time getting there. As if reflecting the distance from this mood we might be starting, the first tones are of bouncy pop music as the company and title are introduced. Then comes Bill Mills’ voice, warm, and rich as hickory smoke, leading us down into darkness with a brief, stylish bio of the author.
When the first line finally arrives, I have to admit, I cringe for just a second. The slow, broken delivery—scattering audible periods where the text shows, at most, commas—has just a whiff of Shatner-reading-Lucy-in-Sky-with-Diamonds over-interpretation. But that passes in an instant, and I find myself discovering new wonders in nearly every spoken line of a poem I’ve read probably a hundred times. I have a tendency to dismiss rhymed poetry as lightweight, as my brain usually prefers humming the tune to learning the meaning behind the words, but Mills’ reading is a perfect foil for that. He treads a careful path between chanting the regular meter and disregarding it entirely, cleverly emphasizing the story the words tell while still respecting their poetry. What he presents is a tale of a man just tumbling off the edge of hope into a free fall of depression, a man who speaks the name of his lost love into the darkness outside his soul only to have the darkness reply with morbid hopelessness.
The one thing marring this production is the background track. Behind the serious lead vocals vamps a cartoon ghoul-band of horror excess: Howling wind, howling wolves, crackling thunder, soaring choirs, and crashing orchestras. It isn’t destructive, but it is ridiculous. That said, this is still an excellent recording. I highly recommend following Mr. Mills down this twilit path, no matter how many times you think you’ve seen it before.
Posted by Kurt Dietz
The Time Machine
By H.G. Wells; Read by James Spencer
MP3, OGG or AAC files download – 3 hours, 2 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Math Fiction /
I felt assured that the Time Machine was only to be recovered by boldly penetrating these underground mysteries. Yet I could not face the mystery. If only I had had a companion it would have been different.
Sounds suspiciously like the plot of every Doctor Who episode doesn’t it? But The Time Machine isn’t just about exciting time-travel adventures, it’s also about the class struggle in Great Britain in the late 19th century, the widening gap between rich and poor, what Humans have control over and what they don’t. Doctor Who has been known to tackle these ideas too, one of it’s serials even has H.G. Wells as a character, but the fact that The Time Machine did it first, and so well, speaks volumes.
Scientifically explained SF stories of time travel take their cue for explanation, when they do it at all, from this novel. Prior to its publication stories of travel in time went unexplained, the Connecticut Yankee, of Mark Twain’s comedic time-travel novel got a knock on his head that sent him back to Middle Ages England – and that was explanation enough in its way. But The Time Machine isn’t played for comedy, Wells’ futures are allegories for his worries about capitalism and communism, for his notation about gender blurring in the industrial age and his realization that not only are all men mortal, but so in fact is Mankind itself!
In just three hours Wells posits two futures: 1. A relative near term future humanity which has bifurcated into two distinct species (Eloi and Morlock) – they stand as the evitable result of aristocrat and proletariat class calcification present in the political theory at the time of it’s writing. 2. A vision of a far future Earth, showing the inevitable and unavoidable physical reality of the universe. Were this not a public domain text, and were not the plot so familiar to us we’d have to think ourselves blessed by this excellent reading. As it is, and as cheap as it is this classic of science fiction can be judged only by it’s audiobook. Thankfully the reading keeps pace with the text.
Sound quality is excellent, but the reader, James Spenser, doesn’t have much to do in the way of voices. He does however a marvelous job engendering anticipation, fear, disgust and sympathy through pacing. Spencer’s lack of an English accent for this Englishman’s tale doesn’t really matter, only one character in the novel is named, she couldn’t sensibly be called English and she doesn’t even have a speaking part. Much of the difficulty in this story comes from the stilted way it is rendered. Told in first person by an unnamed witness to the recounting of the main events, we are regaled second hand with the time traveler’s adventures in time. I can charitably call it “quaint.” Arthur C. Clarke later took up this kind of storytelling with his “Tales Of The White Heart” series of short stories, likely I think in homage to Wells. I’ve heard several audiobook renditions of The Time Machine now, of the non British reader’s Spencer’s is “the definitive edition.” And at just $5.00 it’s a deal.
Posted by Jesse Willis
Good news brain craving fellows, Zombie Astronaut, one of our favorite mp3 webzines, has done something we should have guessed it would, it came back to life, just after we thought it was dead for sure (we really should have known, every horror movie cliche is true after all). A brand new issue is up and full of tasty sweetmeats. Enjoy!
Two BRAND NEW specially commissioned programs start airing on BBC 7‘s The 7th Dimension this weekend. First is Jefferson 37 an original radio drama series. Second, is I Am Legend, which looks like an UNABRIDGED reading of the fantabulous Richard Matheson novel. Of the latter, there are differening reports on its number of instalments either 9 or 10 half-hours. Super sweet either way! Here are the details of both:
By Jenny Stephens; Directed by Peter Leslie Wild
4 Part Serial – Approx 120 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC 7 / The 7th Dimension
Broadcast: Saturday Jan 21st 2006
Starring: David Birrell, Alison Carney, Oliver Hembrough and Dharmesh Patel
“A gripping thriller, set in the near future, and explores the idea of clones being created specifically to provide body parts to those who can afford it.”
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson; Read by Angus McInnes
9 or 10 Part Reading – approx 5 Hours [UNABRIDGED?]
Broadcaster: BBC 7 / The 7th Dimension
Broadcast: Mon-Fri 6pm and 12 midnight Jan 23 – Feb 3 2006 (?)
“Taking place in New York, it’s a tale of vampires and a man immune to the plague that has decimated most of the population”.
Adapted by Scott Stainton Miller
Produced by Eilidh McCreadie
Back in 1947, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists first informed the world what time it was on the “Doomsday Clock“. Since then, the minute hand of that clock has moved forward and back to reflect the subjective level of nuclear danger and the state of global security. I suggest we SF & F fans institute another clock, one for which we can easily see the subjective coolness of the times in which we are living. When Sci Fiction closes it’s doors the “uncoolness clock” hand sweeps 5 minutes towards Midnight, when Charles Stross writes another awesome story it sweeps the clock’s hand back a minute. Everybody on board with the idea?
Good. Now I have a candidate for sweeping the hand back a minute. Here’s the argument:
We should sweep the hand of the “uncoolness clock” back for reason of Escape Pod. Escape Pod is our favorite Science Fiction Podcast Magazine. It’s been scoring coup after coup in the game of audio Science Fiction coolness at least once a week for more than six months and without fail. And it’s really starting to get popular. Just look at the evidence:
2. E-Pod got a BoingBoing.net post a few months back – with BoingBoing being the single most popular blog on the internet – the furtive attention of which has crashed many a server due to the mass of click-throughs. Way Cool!
3. Just two weeks ago Escape Pod podcast a Scott Sigler short story entitled Hero. Significant in that Sigler is the only podcast novelist so far with two podiobooks available (EarthCore and Ancestor) both of which encroach on a five digit subscribership. Damn cool!
4. And finally, we come to today’s instalment of Escape Pod, a short story, by maverick Science Fiction author Cory Doctorow entitled Craphound. Keener cool!
That’s four cool reasons why Escape Pod is worthy of sweeping the “uncoolness clock” back a minute from midnight. But perhaps the best reason is E-Pod’s quality, there’s never been a bad story on Escape Pod, with more than 40 tales under the whimisical editorial hand of Steve Eley that’s really saying something. Oh ya and it’s 100% FREE!
So what I’m saying is nuclear annihilation may still loom over us all but I’m telling you thing’s are still really cool in the Science Fiction department. You cool with that?
A Princess of Mars
By Edgar Rice Burroughs; Read by John Bolen
6 CD’s – 6 hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Tantor Media
Themes: / Science Fiction / Mars / Aliens / Swordplay / Classic /
There are few classic novels with as much influence as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. First published in 1912 (serialized in All-Story magazine with the title Under the Moons of Mars), Burroughs sparked the imagination of many of science fiction’s golden age writers, including Ray Bradbury and his Martian Chronicles. The audiobook cover is a detail from the 1919 Grosset & Dunlap cover.
A Princess of Mars is an imaginative adventure novel in which John Carter, a Virginian military man who starts the story running from Indians in the Arizona desert, is magically transported to Mars. Burroughs does not go into detail on the mechanics of the transportation, but does go into great detail about the inhabitants of Mars, called “Barsoom” by its natives.
There are two races on Mars – a four-armed green warrior race, and a red human-like race. The princess of the title is Dejah Thoris of Helium, whose beauty captures John Carter when he sees her taken by him in chains by some four-armed Barsoomians.
The novel is filled with damsel-in-distress/derring-do-male-hero sensibility that is laughable at times, but still the story holds up as a classic of the genre. Burroughs’ description of an alien culture is a forerunner of an entire category of science fiction, and I found it entertaining on that level. I also felt a great deal of nostalgia, because I read this book a few times as a early teen, along with the other ten Mars volumes, and a Tarzan or three.
John Bolen performs the whole book as John Carter, with a southern gentlemanly manner that the character demands. This means not only Carter’s attitude, but his southern accent, which took me a few minutes to settle into.
Check out Tantor’s science fiction and fantasy section for more Edgar Rice Burroughs titles.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson