BBC Radio 4 will air Susan Hill’s The Man In The Picture

SFFaudio Online Audio

Online AudioWe all might want to have a listen to the BBC Radio 4 Book At Bedtime slot for next week. They’ll be airing a tale in five parts, Monday to Friday October, of a reading of a new ghost story from author Susan Hill. This is the author of The Woman In Black, which became a popular West End play (it is still running there, 18 years after it debuted). Thanks to our eagle eyed U.K. contributor, Roy, for the head’s up.

The Man In The Picture by Susan HillThe Man In The Picture
By Susan Hill; Read by Nigel Anthony and Imogen Stubbs
5 Broadcasts – Approx 75 Minutes [ABRIDGED?]
Broadcaster: BBC RADIO 4 / Book At Bedtime
Broadcast: 10:45-11:00pm Monday to Friday October 15th to 19th

This chilling tale centres on a mysterious depiction of masked revellers at theVenice carnival that hangs in the college rooms of an old professor at Cambridge. One cold winter’s night, sipping whisky by the fire, the picture’s eerie secret is revealed by the ageing don. The dark art of the Venetian scene, instead of imitating life, has the power to entrap it. To stare into the painting is to play dangerously with unseen demons and to become a victim of its macabre beauty…

Also, each of the five parts will be available on the BBC R4 Book At Bedtime page the day after they air.

posted by Jesse Willis

Zombie Astronaut collects BBCR4’s Chillers – Four Tales Of Terror

Online Audio

MP3 webzine - Zombie AstronautIn early 2002 a limited run series of chilling Science Fiction tales aired on BBC Radio 4. The series was entitled Chillers (or Chillers – Four Tales of Terror). The scripts were by Gold Sony award winning dramatist Mike Walker, the original stories were by top SF authors. Before today I’d recommended to everyone who’d listen, the first of these, Who Goes There?. It is the finest half-hour of Science Fiction Audio Drama I’ve ever experienced. But now the entire four episode series is available in the Zombie Astronaut‘s latest issue. I’m going to be savoring the rest thanks to ZA!

Chillers Four Tales Of TerrorChillers – Four Tales of Terror
Dramatized by Mike Walker; Performed by full casts
4 x 30 Minute Programs – Approx. 2 Hours [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4
Broadcast: Jan. – Feb. 2002

“Who Goes There?”
Based on story by John W. Campbell; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 28 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Penned under the name Don A. Stuart, the novelette that this play was based on was first published in the August 1938 issue of Astounding Stories.
An alien being is found frozen in the ice of Antarctica. When it is thawed, it awakens, to become a threat to the small base camp. In fact, it’s a threat to all life on earth, as it can change shape and absorb the life and bodies of every living thing it comes in contact with.

“I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream”
Based on story by Harlan Ellison; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 28 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
The Hugo Award winning short story this play was based on first appeared in the March 1968 issue of Worlds Of If.
This is a tale of five people kept alive by AM, a computer that came alive, waged war and won against mankind. It’s hatred of mankind is so profound, that it kept these five alive only to torture them.

“Delta Sly Honey”
Based on story by Lucius Shepard; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 28 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
First appeared in a 1987 anthology entitled In the Field of Fire, which was a collection of SF and Fantasy stories dealing with Vietnam.
Taking place in the Vietnam War era, this is the story of a Southern country boy who exorcises his demons making late night broadcasts to phantom military units. Then, one answers.

Based on story by Samuel R. Delaney; Performed by a full cast
1 |MP3| – Approx. 28 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
First published in Fantasy And Science Fiction Magazine‘s October, 1967 issue.
This is the story of an injured man and a girl who seeks death to free her from the pain that comes from her telepathic ability. Their common bond is a pop musician who offers peace to both.

Review of Dark Shadows: The House of Despair

SFFaudio Audio Drama Review

Horror Audio Drama - Dark Shadows: The House Of DespairDark Shadows: The House Of Despair
By Stuart Manning, Directed by Gary Russell; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – 72 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Big Finish
Published: September 2006
ISBN: 1844352439
Themes: / Horror / Birds / Lost Souls / Witchcraft / Ghosts / Immortality /

After years of wandering the world, Quentin Collins is coming home. But the Collinwood that awaits him is no longer the sanctuary he remembers. As the town of Collinsport hides in fear from otherworldly powers, Quentin vows to unite old friends and reclaim his birthright.

Dark Shadows was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenons. Modern audiences look at it now and don’t get what audiences of the late 1960s saw in it, or why so many of its fans can’t let it go today. Without its Vietnam era frame of reference, the show seems to have little or no appeal. It isn’t scary by today’s standards. It’s not intentionally funny. Buffy it ain’t.

One can’t help but wonder, then, if there’s any point in attempting an original cast resurrection. So many of the mainstays are no longer living, and the show’s biggest star, Jonathan “Barnabas” Frid, is retired at age 82. With four original series stars in the leads, however, Big Finish productions has achieved a nostalgic romp with a modern storytelling style, intelligent and psychological, dripping with atmosphere, which should satisfy fans of the one-of-a-kind soap opera and modern audiophiles both.

David Selby makes a creditable transition from the Sixties anti-hero that was Quentin Collins, recovering lycanthrope, into a strong leading man. He returns to his ancestral home at age 130-something to find it deserted, overtaken by a supernatural presence who just might be the hidden Big Bad from Hitchcock’s The Birds. Enlisting the aid of the witch Angelique, he sets out to re-establish his dynasty as the new Collins family patriarch.

Selby’s eternal tongue in cheek awareness of his character’s failings serves him well. Lara Parker, forty years later, is still enthralling as the beautiful, horrific Angelique. To the writer’s credit, she maintains her darker side, an ally, but still a potential villain. Kathryn Leigh Scott has a voice made for audio drama, and brings dignity to the long-suffering Maggie Evans, who, after all this time, still hasn’t figured out that her friends the Collinses are not quite human. John Karlen returns as servant Willie Loomis, now “Mad Willie.” As always, he brings life and sympathy to a weak and even sleazy role. Newcomer Andrew Collins is well-cast in his part, which shan’t be revealed herein. The original Robert Colbert Dark Shadows score is blended nicely with original music.

During my listening, the background effects balance was sometimes a little off, obscuring the voices. It’s important to remember, though, that it’s nearly impossible to get the balance right for every sound system out there. I listened on a rental-car stereo. As an audio theater producer myself, (who’s also been chastised in a review for effects balance) I’m the first to say that it’s a lot to ask of an editor to create something artful and make it work for the most pedestrian sound system. For an optimal listening experience, grab some headphones. This is the first of four existing titles in a series, with more promised for the future.

Review of The Chief Designer by Andy Duncan

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Audiobook - The Chief Designer by Andy DuncanThe Chief Designer
By Andy Duncan; Read by Jared Doreck
2 CDs – 132 minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Infinivox
Published: 2006
ISBN: 1884612547
Themes: / Science Fiction / Alternate History / Space Flight / History / Ghosts / Heroic Journey /

“Tsiolkovsky,” he said. “Your memory is excellent, Comrade Korolev.” The man who had held the open book before Korolev’s face reversed it and examined it himself. He wore a full-dress officer’s uniform, and two soldiers flanked him. “Exploration of Cosmic Space with Reactive Devices, by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Published 1903.

Though you’d be hard-pressed to spot the fantastic elements this tale is a inspirational and deeply moving for any true Science Fiction fan. I’m not a spiritual person, I think that spirit is bunk and people who believe in spirit are all marks. But in a very deeply emotional sense I can almost understand the need for something like the spiritual when I look up into the deep night. There is nothing more powerful than seeing the immensity of existence and then comparing our thus far pitiful explorations to them. Those persons with the will to embrace the larger goals of space travel, by passing by the little miasma of our insignificant apish little goals, to get a shiny new car, a cell phone or an expensive suit are those worthy of worship. One such man was Sergei Korolev, the “Chief designer” of the secret Soviet space program. This story follows his management of the men who would create the universe’s only known spacefaring species from 1957’s Sputnik forward into what we can only hope would be a bright future. The story spans from World War II, when Korolev was released from a prison camp to design rockets, to 1997 and the Mir space station.

Andy Duncan is not someone I’d read anything of prior, but his work here is remarkable. If this wasn’t supposed to be Alternate History, and it is very subtle if it is even that, I’d have said the story of Koralev’s life history was massaged to provide a more ballistic plot. Though Koralev was sent to the Gulag, as depicted in the opening sentences of this novella, the reason for his departure from it didn’t happen, in real life, for the reasons stated in the story.

Michael Swanwick called The Chief Designer, “A portrayal … of the single most positive enterprise of the twentieth century”, and he is right, but too limiting, Koralev’s genius, along with men like Wernher von Braun was to expand the meaning of humanity from mere animal to demi-god. Before these men, their vision and action, we were just animals with tools and language, afterwards we became creatures capable of refining the metal of the crust of the planet upon which we were born, shaping it into cylinders filled with explosives and sending our representatives to other worlds. The Chief Designer is a portrayal of the single most important enterprise in human history! Koralev is in a very real sense our real life Titan, our very real and historical Prometheus, stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humanity.

The Chief Designer is winner of the 2002 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Southeastern Science Fiction Achievement Award, a 2003 Nebula Award finalist and a 2002 Hugo Award finalist. Today we can add SFFaudio Essential to its many achievements.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Granny: A Ghost Story of the North Carolina Mountains

Horror Audio Drama - GrannyGranny, A Ghost Story of the North Carolina Mountains
By Steven Wilson, performed by Prometheus Radio Theatre
1 CD – 30 minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Prometheus Radio Theatre
Published: 2004
Themes: / Ghosts / Southern History /

“If the Lord spares my life, I’ll be back here Saturday,” Granny had said when she left. The Lord didn’t spare her life, but Granny still came back. What unfinished business kept her from her rest? Her twelve-year-old granddaughter, Hannah, was determined to find out. Based on a true story.

According to Steven Wilson, the director, Granny, A Ghost Story of the North Carolina Mountains is based on a story that his grandmother swore “to her dying day” was true. In fact, as a bonus at the end of the radio show, Mr. Wilson shares a clip of his grandmother telling the tale.

Listening to it, I could understand why it kept him awake at nights as a child. Sadly, that sense of creeping chill was not translated to this production. While Steven Wilson and Ethan Wilson turn in creditable performances and Cindy Woods does a nice job as the young Hannah, the rest of the cast are as stiff in their reads as if this were their first time in front of a microphone.

As if in an attempt to compensate for the lackluster performances, the foley effects are so loud that they at times almost overwhelm the dialogue. The show is filled with footsteps, creaking rocking chairs, and an unending parade of insect life which do nothing to enhance any of the action. Indeed, most of the time it was a distraction. At one point, Papa and Hannah were talking and I had to strain to understand what was happening and finally realized that Papa had stirred the fire, walked across the room and sat in the world’s creakiest rocking chair. None of which had anything to do with the story, or the dramatic tension in the scene; it was foley for the sake of foley.

There are some nicely eerie moments, such as when the family first hears the ghost of Granny crooning “Amazing Grace” in the chimney. I wish the rest of the show were half as effective.

Posted by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review of Nightfall: The Room by Michael McCabe

Horror Audiobooks - The RoomNightfall: The Room
By Michael McCabe; Performed by a Full Cast
1 Cassette – 55 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Durkin Hayes
Published: 1996
ISBN: 057943687959
Themes: / Horror / Ghosts / Haunted House /

It was late one night. I mean really late – two-something in the morning late. My eyes opened, I got up for some water, a bathroom break, then back to bed. A minute or so later, I knew that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep quickly, so I got back up to find something to listen to. I found my cassette Walkman, into which I placed Nightfall: The Room. A half an hour later, I was listening for strange noises and thinking that it was awfully dark in the bedroom, for The Room is one heck of a fine ghost story.

In the story, a widow named Ameila Watts explains to a man that several people have stayed in the “yellow room” in her house, but they’ve gone mad in the attempt, because the room is haunted. She offers the man 1000 pounds to attempt it himself, and because he’s a man who does not believe in the supernatural and needs the money, he accepts. What follows is an excellent example of audio drama done right. A first-rate scary production.

On the flip side of the cassette is a story called “Maid’s Bell” by Edith Wharton. Also well-produced, “Maid’s Bell” is the story of the experience of a woman who is hired to be a maid in a mansion. One of the other maids tells her that the previous women who have held the job left quite abruptly, and the mystery unfolds from there.

The best resource I know of if you want to know more about Nightfall, the CBC Radio series of which this is a part, try Nightfall-25. Many of these were published in single cassette editions by Durkin Hayes – they are out of print, but many can be found on eBay. Publishers: A Best-Of collection from these wonderful shows would be very welcome.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson