Tales of the Red Panda: The Crime Cabal
By Gregg Taylor; Read by Gregg Taylor
Release Date: October 17, 2012
Playing time: 5 hours 53 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: pulp / heroes / depression era / gangs / zombies / bombs / hypnotism / secret identities / roof tops / grapnel guns
Depression-era Toronto is the setting for Gregg Taylor’s pulp hero The Red Panda and his sidekick The Flying Squirrel. The novel opens with the last of the big gangs in the city being brought to Justice; Police Chief O’Mally railing against the masked vigilantes at loose in his city. While the Press love the hero: defender of the weak, the poor and the downtrodden of society.
Out from the ashes of the many gangs that our hero’s have crushed rises a new gang, The Crime Cabal. This new gang knows that for them to flourish, they must deal with The Red Panda once and for all. But there is more behind the Cabal than a simple gang. When the hulking enforcers of the gang turn out to be zombies it’s clear that this is no ordinary gang.
The Tales of the Red Panda: The Crime Cabal is the first novel set within the same setting as the podcast audio dramas, also written and produced by Gregg Taylor under the Decoder Ring Theatre banner. There is continuity between the podcast and the novel, but the novel does stand on it’s own, even providing an origin story for one of the long running supporting characters. The setting and characters are all introduced with enough background and flare to be fully formed within the novel alone.
Gregg Taylor does a commendable job with the narration and the characters. Of note are the character voices especially as I’ve listened to the audio dramas for some years. Taylor captures the essence of the voices of the characters as they have been portrayed by other actors. For several years in some cases. So, even if you have listened to the podcasts you won’t be disappointed by the the portrayal of familiar characters, and if you haven’t then they come out fully formed characterizations.
My only niggle is that in the first few chapters the narration feels just a little rushed in places, but this passes.
Posted by Paul [W] Campbell
ed. – Here is a fine example of Harlan Ellison as narrator.
This is a story about a teenager who feels New York City calling to him – “live here, live here, whatever it is, it’s here, and nowhere else”. No, this isn’t Fame. In fact, it’s much closer to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, because Ben Bova’s Manhattan has been covered by a dome, and only opens for tourists in the summer, because of several issues, including the quality of the environment (not fit for people) and the mood of the citizens (you can’t move around in the city without being shot at).
The teenager, Ron Morgan, receives his results on tests that determine his entire future. He scores very well (extremely well), but New York beckons. His father be damned, he sneaks off to get in one last visit before giving his life to the machine. Mayhem ensues, and when the gates close for the summer, Ron finds himself locked on the wrong side. He finds the city sparsely populated by interesting characters, many of whom are young people who have split up in a way that would have made William Golding nod. Gangs rule the day, and Ron finds himself in an extremely difficult spot, with nothing to rely on other than his mechanical aptitude.
This may be my favorite Ben Bova work. He crams many of his recurring themes into this story, but social and environmental concerns rule the day here. His picture of future New York is dismal, and very much an if-this-goes-on warning. The citizens who decide to stay in the city choose to because they don’t see life in mainstream society (i.e., a lifetime in pursuit of dollars) as a better option – another thing Bova makes us consider.
Now, the story is quite good. But, what makes the audiobook great (and it is great) is the way it was read. Harlan Ellison performs the novel, and won an Audie Award for it. Ellison’s style of narration is unique in my experience. He can keep up with the best narrators in the business when it comes to accents and character creation, and then adds a story-telling touch that makes it all the more personal. His emotion isn’t limited to dialogue. He stammers when a character stammers. He’s excited when the action is intense. He is fully present while he’s narrating, and he lets himself feel and convey those feelings without waiting for dialogue to do it. It spills over, right out the earphones, and makes the story much more vivid and intense. This is a superior piece of narration – one that professionals should hear.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson