Five Children and It on BBC7

August 15, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Online Audio 

SFFaudio Online Audio

BBC Radio 7 - BBC7 Good stuff is happening on BBC7 lately, like Mike Walker’s remarkable 6-part historical drama series, Caesar!, that aired over the last two weeks. This Saturday, 7 Drama will present the full cast dramatization of Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It (which certainly ranks as one of the best ever titles for a kids novel), a story about a magical sand fairy (that) grants five children a series of wishes

A little background, quoting here from Wikipedia, Edith Nesbit popularized an innovative style of children’s fantasy that combined realistic, contemporary children in real-world settings with magical objects and adventures. In doing so, she was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J. K. Rowling -as well as C. S. Lewis and Michael Moorcock. Yow!

Some will recall Nesbit for her memorable novel, The Railway Children, and the film and BBC television series based on the book (presented wayyy back in the 1960’s). I said some will -if they’re willing to admit that they’re old enough to have watched Star Trek: TOS in prime time.

Now, I have to admit that I haven’t heard this production before but given the Beeb’s track record, the play should be good. At an hour and a half long, there should be enough time to cover the story while keeping things moving at a brisk pace. Also, BBC dramatizations tend to feature excellent child actors. This should be a big plus here. -A lot of “shoulds”, I know, but being a fan of Edith Nesbit’s books to begin with, of course I’m looking forward to this.

Check out Five Children and It with me on Saturday, August 16 from 12:00- 13:30 GMT. Teleport to 7 Drama here to do so. Or you can use the Listen Again feature to hear the show for six days after it airs.

Lastly, you can read and download Edith Nesbit’s novels online at Project Gutenberg. All are in the public domain. Yay!

Posted by RC of Radio Tales of the Strange and Fantastic

Review of Guardians Of The West by David Eddings

February 28, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Guardians of the West by David EddingsGuardians Of The West (Book #1 of the Malloreon)
By David Eddings; Read by Cameron Beierle
14 CDs , 1 MP3 CD or Cassettes- Aprox. 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Books in Motion
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1596072377 (MP3-CD), 1596072369 (CDs), 1596072350 (Cassettes)
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / War / Magical Creatures / Wizards / Gods /

Guardians Of The West is the first book in a five book series called the The Malloreon. There’s a previous five volume series, The Belgariad, that takes place in this same fantasy setting. In fact, Guardians Of The West picks up shortly after The Belgariad’s ending. I had never read The Belgariad series, so I had to play catch-up listening to this title.

After a prologue that was obviously written as a refresher to those who had read the previous series, the story gets underway. The tale unfolds slowly enough. The large cast of characters are easy to get to know and are varied and interesting in themselves. There is Errand, a naive child with special gifts. Polgara, who is a motherly near-immortal. And her father, Belgrath, a boozing, womanizer, a real Falstaffian character until things get serious.

The novel’s central characters switches to the young king, Garion, who we find to be having trouble with his new spirited queen, Ce’Nedra. The plot really begins to move when there are hints of a new dark power known only as Zandramas. The pacing remains leisure through the first half of the novel. After the climatic ending to the first series, I suppose Eddings needed to maneuver and reintroduce the cast to his readers and create a new major conflict. This could have been frustrating if wasn’t for Eddings’ gift for dialog and characterization.

This book needed a talented voice actor to carry off the large and varied cast. Sprawling fantasy novels may be the most challenging genre for an actor to convey. Cameron Beierle does it all with unequivocal panache. His very intonations carry enough characterization that Eddings’ descriptions of characters become redundant. He uses many accents that seem entirely appropriate to the characters. Like Harry Potter’s narrator, Jim Dale, he has a seemingly endless repertoire of voices. I’d go so far as to call Cameron Beierle the American Jim Dale.

If you haven’t read or listened to Eddings’ Belgariad series, I’m sure that’s the place to start. The first book in the series is called Pawn of Prophecy and it along with all the books in the two series are available from Books In Motion. And all narrated by Cameron Beierle!

Review of Wild Magic (The Immortals, Book 1) by Tamora Pierce

October 12, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Fantasy Audiobooks - Wild Magic by Tamora PierceWild Magic (The Immortals, Book 1)
by Tamora Pierce, read by Full Cast Audio
8 CDs – 8 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1932076832
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizardry / Youth / Magical Creatures / Horses /

In Wild Magic’s Book One: The Immortals, Tamora Pierce has created a cast of strong women and made a world in which they fit naturally. The whole book takes place from the point of view of Diane (Carmen Viviano-Crafts), a young girl escaping from a dark secret in the highlands. Daine hires on with a horsetrader, Ouna (Raquel Starace) How delightful to meet a female horsetrader in a fantasy novel. Too often, such strong female characters overplay their roles but each of the characters in Wild Magic seems balanced and very real. So it troubles me that I felt like Ms. Pierce was playing games by withholding information that Daine surely knew, especially because she does such a delightful job at inviting me into Daine’s thoughts.

I do not mind the tension she tried to create by keeping Daine’s “dark secret” from me at the beginning, but after a time, it began to wear on me. I spent chapters hearing Daine’s thoughts about how she had to escape her past, without ever knowing what that past was. I finally discovered that she had gone mad and was afraid that it would happen again. Once I knew that, I was able to really worry with Daine. But poor Daine wouldn’t tell her friends what was bothering her. While I can understand her reluctance, as the book continued she was given no reason to continue hiding her secret and plenty of reasons to ask for help. When she finally does reveal her past in all its gory detail, Numair the Mage, basically says, “Oh, well I can fix that.” And does, in two sentences.

So, after all of that build up, Daine’s problem is solved with, almost literally, the wave of a magic wand.

In a similar vein, I listened to paragraphs of buildup as something was attacking the band of travellers over the water without having a clue about what it was. I knew everyone was preparing for an attack. I knew people were frightened, but I had no idea why. It turned out to be a gryphon that Daine was able to befriend.

With that said, the world of Wild Magic is fascinating. I am curious about which of the threads in this volume will carry over to the next books. Many of the scenes were resonant with emotion, I just wish I hadn’t had to guess what was happening in so many of the others.

Full Cast Audio does a fantastic job of bringing Ms. Pierce’s book to audio life. In particular, I need to note Daniel Bostick who played Numair the Mage. His voice built pictures in my head every time his character spoke.

Posted by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

September 30, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceHarry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
By J.K. Rowling; Read by Jim Dale
17 CDs – 19 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0307283658
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Wizardry / Youth / Magical Creatures / School /

At this point, the Harry Potter universe has become so entrenched in our culture that it’s impossible to approach the newest installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with anything like objectivity. Most readers already care so much about Harry and his associates that the reading experience has become less like enjoying a good novel and more like continuing the biography of a good friend or beloved celebrity. Which isn’t to say that The Half-Blood Prince isn’t a good novel; on the contrary, it ranks right up there with The Prisoner and Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire, and is a damn sight better than 2003’s gloomy and ultimately disappointing The Order of the Phoenix. For those of us who feel better when things are given in Star Wars terms, The Half-Blood Prince is most similar to The Empire Strikes Back; it advances and complicates our views about the series and its characters, while apparently moving backward from the hero’s inevitable triumph over the villain.

In The Half-Blood Prince, author J.K. Rowling maintains her own tradition of opening the novel without the titular hero in sight. In this case, the muggle Prime Minister of England is anxiously awaiting a visit from the Minister of Magic and reminiscing about their previous, mostly unpleasant, meetings. When Cornelius Fudge arrives, he brings news that the wizarding world is in an uproar; Lord Voldemort is apparently growing more and more powerful, Voldemort’s followers, the Death-Eaters are becoming more brazen in their attacks, and wizards, witches, and muggles are all at increasing risk of severe harm or death.

While Rowling never mentions real-world events in the books, the tone and situations of the two novels published since 9-11 indicate that the world inside her head is not completely insulated from the world outside. It’s telling of Rowling’s own views that the Ministry of Magic is, at best, ineffectual in dealing with these threats, and is often outright dangerous; in The Half-Blood Prince, the Ministry of Magic detains individuals it knows to be innocent, in order to give the appearance of making some progress against the enemy.

The initial expository scene, combined with a tantalizingly ambiguous revelation about one of the Hogwart’s professors, makes for such a dark opening that it’s an almost tangible relief when Harry finally makes an appearance. The likeable young wizard is now 16 years old, and Rowling has again taken pains to ensure that the novel has matured along with Harry. Passages dealing with the magical comeuppance of the Dursleys, the pointless ins and outs of Quidditch matches (why bother with anything but the snitch?), and the minutiae of wizard candy are fleeting and widely spaced, while more chapters are devoted to fairly violent magical battles (a faithful movie adaptation could very well garner an “R” rating), career counseling, and “snogging,” (making out, for those of us on the Yankee side of the pond).

Once the novel starts in earnest, Rowling doesn’t stray from Harry’s point of view, but she cheats somewhat by using the “pensive,” a magical device that allows Harry to explore the memories of others. The pensive is put to good use in the book, as its main function is to investigate the background of “He-who-must-not-be-named.” Readers who are hoping for a complicated, even sympathetic, take on Lord Voldemort (ala Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon) will be disappointed. It turns out that Voldemort is just plain bad, always has been, and apparently, always will be. More psychopath than sadist, Voldemort never hurts or kills just for enjoyment, his villainies are always means to an end. Voldemort’s particular brand of evil means that the guilt that might be expected to accompany these activities just isn’t there.

Other magical items are used less effectively in the story. An episode involving a bottle of “liquid luck”, called “felix felicis,” (the letters of which do not rearrange to spell deus ex machina) feels so contrived, requires a such a lengthy and complicated set-up, and requires Harry, Ron, and Hermione to act so outside their characters, that it’s one of the few times the book feels like something that somebody made up, rather than a description of actual events.

All told, however, the sixth installment in the Harry Potter series is excellent, and the unabridged recording of the novel makes for a very enjoyable listen. The folks at Listening Library made an inspired choice when they chose Jim Dale to read The Sorcerer’s Stone, and, five books, two Audie Awards, five Headphone Awards, three Grammy nominations and one actual Grammy later, his performance of The Half-Blood Prince is, to borrow a word from Harry, brilliant. Even without sound effects, music, or multiple actors, The Half-Blood Prince plays like a good BBC radio drama. Dale lends nuance and individuality to each of the characters, while his “normal,” narration voice is dignified, yet accessible. Dale also has an uncanny knack for interpreting speech adverbs; where Rowling writes “reprovingly,” or “reminiscently”, Dale puts reproach or reminiscence into the dialogue, so much so that very often the listener will be able to predict Rowling’s choice of adverb before Dale reads it. Maybe the highest compliment that can be paid to the audio book is that at no point is the reader reminded of the sub-par (but increasingly better) film adaptations of the books. While listeners who desire an experience closer to reading, with more neutral performances that allow for more personal interpretation, might resent having Dale’s vigorous interpretation thrust upon them, most listeners, particularly younger ones, will enjoy all 19 hours of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.