Here is the first section of SFFAudio’s Guide to A…

SFFaudio Commentary

Here is the first section of SFFAudio’s Guide to Audiobooks. We’ll post each one as we write them, then collect them on the site.

Single Narrator – Unabridged


Let me tell you why Single Narrator Unabridged audiobooks are the best thing since sliced bread. I love audiobooks, but abridged ones usually make me feel like I’m missing out. I even like an audio dramatization now and then. But if I was forced to choose only one kind of audiobook – to take to a desert island say – I’d choose a single narrator unabridged. There is just something about a solitary narrative voice telling a story in its entirety.

Performing a story aloud is a very primal form of communication. The ancient rhapsodies and medieval bards made their livings by telling tales to rapt audiences. Today we prefer prose novels to epic poetry and lyric ballads and typically listening to an audiobook isn’t a communal affair. But the core of the experience remains the same. A single narrator who can, using voice changes, play all the characters of a story, like a one-man (or woman) play – it almost can’t be beat for raw storytelling. And when the story they are reading is a good one it sends chills down my spine.

It’s hard to pick just one exemplar of this, but there are few novels of recent years that had as much audio impact upon me as the unabridged reading of Neil Gaiman’s Hugo Award winning American Gods. George Guidall, the reader, commands your attention, his distinctive voices, of men, women, and gods make it completely clear who is speaking, even when the text may make you wait for the attribution – as I told Scott recently, the man has just has gravitas. He also happens to have one of the best voices in audiobooks. Guidall’s patented gravelly reading of American Gods cemented him as my favorite narrator. Soon after hearing it I found myself tracking down other novels he had performed – not caring what it was he was reading. And this led me to another discovery. A terrific narrator is not enough without good material from which to read. I had selected a Guidall reading of a Lillian Jackson Braun cat mystery from my local library. I instantly regretted it. Not even Guidall’s masterful voice can command me to suffer through another.

Another nice thing about the Single Narrator – Unabridged format is that it is a common type of audiobook, especially these days. In just the last couple of years unabridged length audiobooks have become more popular with publishers like HarperAudio. Not five years ago, unabridged was almost exclusively the domain of Books On Tape, Recorded Books and Blackstone Audio. Even more recently, retail editions of some selections from these companies are being packaged and sold in bookstores. Most notably, Border’s bookstores are now releasing selected Recorded Books titles with jointly labeled packages.

The future of single voiced narration truly never sounded so good!


I’m in agreement with everything Jesse said there. The “Single Narrator – Unabridged” style of recording works so well that I often wonder why some companies keep messing with it. Without doubt, this style of audiobook requires a good narrator, but if you have that good narrator, there is no need to embellish the story with sound effects or music underlying the narration, which some publishers think is important. It’s not. In fact, it’s more likely to be maddening than entertaining. Luckily, producers rarely “embellish” unabridged novels in this way – that treatment is normally reserved for abridgements. A good narrator reading good material needs no music to create mood, and that’s why this style works so well.

Listening to a good unabridged novel is a personal experience. I not only connect with the author, but also with the narrator. An average audio novel runs 8-10 hours, and a long one can run 30 hours or more. So a listener spends a great deal of time listening to that narrator’s voice. I often find myself as eager to hear the narrator’s next work as I am the author’s next novel. I also enjoy listening to new narrators grow in skill from book to book.

One thing that has me baffled is the existence of computer programs that read text to you. How incredibly boring. The emotion of the narrator is vital! Listening to a monotone computer recite words with nothing behind them is nigh unlistenable – it takes great effort. I know that many people who have never heard an audiobook think that that’s really what they are like – dry recitation of prose. But they are not. Through performance, a good narrator adds a whole other dimension to the author’s story. If this wasn’t the case, they’d be very dull indeed.

Like Jesse, I also think George Guidall is tops, and am enthused that he’s reading so much lately. Since Jesse already mentioned American Gods (also a personal favorite), I’ll mention another fabulous Guidall performance: Dune by Frank Herbert from Recorded Books. Jim Dale’s performance of all five Harry Potter novels (Listening Library) is another excellent example of the heights Single Narrator Unabridged Audiobooks can reach.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Since the country is going through a Harry Potter …

SFFaudio Commentary

Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter 3Since the country is going through a Harry Potter frenzy right now, I feel I should mention how wonderful I’ve found the Harry Potter audiobooks published by Listening Library. I’ve listened to two of them, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (currently in production as a feature film) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I also joined the fray last weekend and purchased the audiobook of the newest title, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which won’t get to right away. (My wife and son are currently enjoying it.) I’ll write up a proper review when I do.

Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter 4But until then: Both of the volumes I have listened to are simply excellent. If you’ve seen the films, you really know what to expect, especially from Volume 3. In the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling really takes it up a notch. This book actually won a Hugo award a couple of years back as the best novel of the year, and I admit that I was surprised at that result. I felt that George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords should have won the award. After listening to this novel, though, I feel that it was worthy of consideration (though I still would have voted for Martin’s book). It is thicker and certainly darker in both character and theme than the previous three books. It is a novel written for young adults, but there’s plenty in there to appeal to us older folks.

Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter 5Jim Dale narrates all of the Potter novels. His range in these performances is incredible. There are many different characters in this book, and Dale provides distinct voices to each one. He acts them all with great skill. It’s true that many of the characters are not particularly deep – an evil character is simply evil and does evil things without us really knowing why. At least not yet. But in Jim Dale’s reading, we know who is who because the manner of each character shines through.

I’m looking forward to this latest volume and didn’t hesitate to buy it.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Another from my list of all-time favorites….The …

SFFaudio Commentary

Another from my list of all-time favorites….

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, starring Simon Jones, Peter Jones, and Geoffrey McGivern, BBC Radio, 1978

This BBC audio drama is the original version of the insanely popular science fiction comedy, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s been through many forms since then, including novels and a BBC television series. But this radio series is not only the original version, it’s the best version. The actors are crisp and hilarious, the scripts brilliant, the sound and music first-rate. If you don’t know what Vogon poetry is, this is the place to start.

The original run, called “Fit the First”, was six half-hour shows. Later, six more shows (“Fit the Second”) were done for a total of 12 shows. The Collector’s Edition (available from UK) includes all of those along with two CD’s filled with Douglas Adams interviews.

Another note – Douglas Adams recorded a live reading of some sections of the novels. The tape runs about 90 minutes, and is extremely funny. It’s called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Live in Concert. It appears to be out of print, but is available on

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Commentary: Star Wars audiobooks

SFFaudio Commentary

In 1999, Del Rey published Vector Prime by R.A. Salvatore. This novel was the first in a projected 22 novels in a series called The New Jedi Order. This week, the Star Wars website has a sneak peek of the penultimate novel in the series, The Final Prophecy. Only one more to go.

What does this have to do with audio? Well, every single one of these novels has been produced as an audiobook. And well-produced at that. I’ve listened to and enjoyed three of the titles – Vector Prime (Book 1) by R.A. Salvatore, Dark Tides I: Onslaught (Book 2) by Michael A. Stackpole, and Dark Journey (Book 10) by Elaine Cunningham.

These books have an overriding story, which readers (and listeners) like me really appreciate. Most media tie-in series are held in a tight grip – stuff is not allowed to happen. Each novel must end exactly where it began, allowing the next author’s tale to make sense. But in the New Jedi Order series, there was an overall plan to the 22 volumes to start with. Each author wrote his or her part of the story arc, and the results are excellent. In short, stuff happens in these books.

A quick note on setting: the series takes place years after Return of the Jedi. Luke is trying to rebuild the Jedi Council. Han and Leia are married, with three children, all teen Jedi. The bad guys in the series are the fascinating and sinister Yuuzhan Vong, a race of invaders from another galaxy who exist outside the Force.


Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Commentary: Renting audiobooks

SFFaudio Commentary

Renting audiobooks is a cost-effective way of getting your hands on some very good stuff. How does it work? With most of 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. There’s no need to add postage, because it’s already paid.

Some of these companies allow you to set ship dates for the books you select so that you can order several at a time, and have them arrive every two weeks or so.

Blackstone Audio

Blackstone Audio has been doing more and more science fiction and fantasy lately. The narrators are generally good. Some of their latest include Jack Williamson’s The Humanoids and a collection of short stories by Robert Silverberg. They also carry some audio drama, including an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey that I’m eager to hear.

Books on Tape

Books on Tape has an unabridged science fiction collection that’s highlighted by Isaac Asimov’s entire Foundation series and by Frank Herbert’s Dune series (including unabridged versions of the recent prequels written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson). There are a few short story collections here as well.

Recorded Books, Inc.

Recorded Books has the biggest collection of quality science fiction and fantasy, it’s getting even larger. Their narrators are the best, including Frank Muller, George Guidall, Rob Inglis, and Richard Ferrone, among many others. They’ve got some great titles, too. To name a few: 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, along with many other good titles.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson