Review of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

SFFaudio Review

The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman; Read by Neil Gaiman
Audible Download – Approx. 8 Hours[UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2008
Themes: / Fantasy / Ghosts / Childhood / Revenge / Parenting / Afterlife / Humor / YA /

In a few words: Not as disturbing as Coraline (which is… a bit) and every ounce as entertaining as I hoped.

Now, details: The Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman’s latest YA novel. The story is about Nobody Owens, a young boy who starts the novel as a toddler that ends up in a graveyard late at night, all by himself. I’ll let Gaiman tell you how that happens, because the journey is all the fun here. Nobody Owens grows up, and Gaiman’s ghosts do all the parenting.

Again, Gaiman manages to be both sinister and funny at the same time, like he’s telling you the worst thing you’ve ever heard, but with a smile and a wink. Here’s the first lines of Chapter 1:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black gold, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you may not even know you had been cut. Not immediately.

You’d think what follows would be a bit grisly, and I suppose it is, but it’s all so fantastic that I smiled through most of that chapter, with the sort of glow I get around Halloween. A pair of ghosts (the Owens’s) raising a live boy, that boy growing up and learning his letters off gravestones and his life’s philosophy from the perspective of dead but well-meaning people; well, it’s just a great idea, and it’s perfectly presented by Gaiman. My kids love it too. This is the kind of book that will be revisited in my house often. In addition, I’d say that if you have a Harry Potter fan on your Christmas list, this book might be just the right fit, and it has the added bonus of introducing him or her to the likes of Neil Gaiman, which in turn could open that fan up to the rest of the world of books as well.

Gaiman also narrates, and like I’ve said elsewhere, he’s one of the few authors I’ve heard that could make a comfortable living as an audiobook narrator. I can’t imagine this audiobook being read by someone else, and I’m very happy that it isn’t.

Edited to add the SFFaudio Essential, which was forgotten by the reviewer. He has been sacked.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of The Grist Mill: God of the Razor and If You Take My Hand, My Son

SFFaudio Review

Grist Mill - God of the RazorThe Grist Mill: “The God of the Razor” and “If You Take My Hand, My Son”
By Joe R. Lansdale and Mort Castle; Performed by a Full Cast
1 CD – 1 hour – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: STH Productions
Published: 2008
Themes: / Horror / Gods / Razors / Fathers / Afterlife /

A cloud across the moon can change the entire face of the night. It changes the way some people change their clothes… the way women change their hair.
— “God of the Razor”, Joe R. Lansdale

This CD contains two episodes from The Grist Mill audio drama series. The first is Joe R. Lansdale’s God of the Razor, which finds the protagonist confronting a weird guy in an empty house who talks about moons and clouds and eyes on his razor. (Note to self: if a weird guy mentions the word “razor”, it’s time to go, regardless of whether or not he sees eyes on them.) Like it says on the box, this one’s not for the squeamish.

Next is Mort Castle’s If You Take My Hand, My Son, which is a wrenching tale of a man who, after an accident, sees his father, who he had had a terrible time with when he lived. Is the man’s urge to reconcile with his father stronger than his will to live?

The audio drama is first rate – excellent actors, great sound, and two stories that are well worth hearing. So, if you are looking for a chill this Halloween, this collection would be an excellent choice.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Look to Windward by Iain BanksLook to Windward
By Iain M. Banks, read by Robert Lister
10 Cassettes – Approx. 14.25 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Clipper Audio
Published: 1990
ISBN: 1841971839
Themes: / Science fiction / Aliens / Space Travel / War / Afterlife

Civil war has taken its toll on a planet called Chel, whose furry predator-descended people live in a strict caste-based society with an exacting religion. One of them, a famous composer named Ziller, has disowned his home world to live on a Culture orbital called Masaq’. He lives in crusty happiness among the humans and formerly human machines there, composing, exploring, and attending dinner parties. But word has come of a second Chelgrian, a former soldier and monk named Quilan, who appears determined to persuade him to return to Chel. The Culture are partially responsible for instigating the Chelgrian civil war, and it may be that Quilan has a deeper mission that even he knows nothing about.

This is the compelling lead-in to Iain M. Banks’ novel Look to Windward, but it is far from the whole story. The novel takes us far into the future of humanity, across the astoundingly large artificial surface of Masaq’, down deep voids of space on a series of amusingly named spacecraft, through the bitter civil war on Chel, and even into the belly of a large, atmosphere-containing being and the enormous blimp-like life forms inside it. The range of emotion is similarly grand, beginning with a harrowing descent into the war and its aftermath, segueing into an amusing and confusing dinner party, and setting off into stirring adventure and philosophical discussions of risk, war, love, life and death.

This is an introspective novel, and its most involving aspects unfold almost entirely in dialog. Such dependence on conversation demands an author who can produce interesting, distinct, and consistent voices for the various characters. Iain Banks delivers in spades, and Robert Lister interprets his dialog with near-perfection (the notable exception is Kabe, who sounds like a B-grade Igor). Hearing Ziller’s profane peevishness, Quillan’s calm hopelessness, and even Colonel Hyler’s avuncular old war-horse is like perceiving the characters in extra dimensions. In particular, there is a discussion late in the book between Quillan and Hyler that, while horrifying in topic, is presented with such remarkable tenderness that I found it one of the most outstanding scenes of fiction I’ve ever heard.

Look to Windward is part of a larger series of Culture novels, but don’t let that scare you off. I haven’t read any of the others, and you won’t be required to, either. If you like a thoughtfully-paced interplay of characters and ideas in a futuristic but oddly British setting, then you will love this book. And, like me, you’ll soon be trying to get your hands on more.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

Review of An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in LondonAn American Werewolf in London
Adapted, written, and directed by Dirk Maggs
Starring Jenny Agutter, John Woodvine, Brian Glover, Eric Meyers, and William Dufris
2 Cassettes – 1 Hour 50 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
ISBN: 0563381035
Date Published: 1997
Published by the BBC
Themes: / Horror / Werewolves / Afterlife /

One of my favorite movies as a kid was John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. I especially enjoyed the way that humor and horror were mixed to produce a film that both scared me and told me not to take things too seriously.

This BBC Radio adaptation of American Werewolf captured the tone of Landis’ film completely. It might not be surprising since Dirk Maggs’ audio script was based on John Landis’ movie script, but still, it could have turned out much differently and I was pleased to have much the same experience with this audio drama as I did with the movie.

So what’s the point, you ask? I’m not completely sure, but pulling this story off as an audio drama when the film was so visual really showcases the medium’s power.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, it starts with two friends hitchhiking across the moors in England. After a brief stop in a pub they are attacked by a werewolf – one is killed, the other bitten. The survivor becomes the American werewolf of the title.

I enjoyed the performances very much, and my opinion of Dirk Maggs grows with every title I hear. This is out of print at this writing, and is rare. Once I found out it existed, it took me a few months to dig one up.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson