Review of Guardians Of The West by David Eddings

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 Conan The Barbarian Movie Adaptation LP

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Conan The Barbarian - Movie Adaptation LPConan The Barbarian
Based on the Motion Picture directed by John Milius; Performed by a FULL CAST
33 1/3 RPM LP – Approx. 43 minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Power Records
Published: 1982 (Out Of Print)
Product #: 1134
Themes: / Fantasy / Revenge / Battle / Mythology / Gods / Snakes /

“I was born on the battlefield! The first sounds I
heard were the screams of dying men!”

It took almost a half of century for Robert E. Howard’s legendary thief, warrior, barbarian and eventual King to debut on the silver screen. In the fifty or so years prior to the 1982 theatrical release of Conan The Barbarian, and against all odds, Conan had clutched fate by its throat and demanded success in practically every media it was translated into. Novels, magazines, newspaper syndication and comics, they were all conquered by this sword-wielding barbarian. These conquest continually garnished him a growing legion of loyal followers. So by Conan’s God Crom, it only made sense for Hollywood to be this fantasy character’s next path to tread under his sandaled feet.

Ridley Scott… Oliver Stone… Many talented directors attempted to bring “Conan The Barbarian” to theaters before writer/director John Milius’ inspired script finally got it right and brought the project to fruition. John’s vision, which some critics called “horribly violent” and “sexist”, captured the true lifeblood and essence of the Hyborian Age and all its brutality and sinister ways. Directed on location in Spain for Universal Pictures, it starred world renowned bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan of Cimmeria and Shakespearean actor James Earl Jones as the dreaded snake cult leader Thulsa Doom.

As always, making a motion picture about any character with a large fanbase creates controversy, and Conan The Barbarian was no different. Many fans questioned most of the inexperienced cast and their acting ability. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a world champion bodybuilder. Valeria, played by Sandahl Bergman, was a professional dancer. Even the director’s surfing partner took on the role of Subotai. Overwhelmingly, other than James Earl Jones, the cast was perceived as great lot of physical specimens rather than accomplished actors. Confusion also lingered among purists regarding Milius’ choice to retell Conan’s origin, which somewhat contrasted with the purist understanding of the barbarian’s earlier years. But other fans defended the retelling, arguing that creator Robert E. Howard never truly fleshed out Conan’s childhood, only briefly touched upon it. Moreover, they were quite pleased that Milius honored the legacy of Conan by sampling script ideas from many of Conan’s original tales like “The Tower of the Elephant” and “The Thing in the Crypt”.

Whichever side fans took, most couldn’t help not to revel in the sure beauty of the film… especially its Fantasy panting-like cinematography, awe inspiring original score and its seriousness in tone (something sorely missing in the later and utterly inferior sequel.) So, like all forms of media before it, the film Conan The Barbarian was a success and is now considered a classic among fans of the sword & sorcery genre. Conan was once again triumphant.

That same year, Power Records released the story of “Conan The Barbarian” which was surprisingly good among movie adaptation albums of its time. Known more for creating stories for adolescents, it was really quite astonishing to see Power Records adapt a “R” rated film, gloriously filled with masses of graphic violence, explicit nudity and even an orgy! The adaptation did exclude the “worst” parts of the film of course, but most mothers I know would balk upon their children listening to lines like “The last image I saw was my parent’s heads on a pair of Vanir pikes!” This adaptation was obviously made for young adults.

A whole new cast of actors were used, and the actors chosen for Conan, Subotai and The Wizard were an excellent choice. Conan is more intelligent than he appeared in the film, in the vein of the original Robert E. Howard writings. Actually, the original film script called for Conan to have more dialogue and narrate his own story rather than Mako’s ‘The Wizard’ doing the chronicling. But due to Schwarzenegger’s thick accent, much of Conan’s lines were trimmed down and/or removed in trade of Arnold’s powerful visual presence, which is where a problem lies. I actually had trouble appreciating this adaptation at first. Being a great fan of the film, I had the original actor’s voices and their dialogue (or Conan’s lack thereof) imprinted in my mind so deeply, it was hard to listen with a fresh perspective. Challenging yourself to give it a second “go around” is where the reward lies!

Conan narrating his tale is not the only difference between the adaptation and the actual film. Though fans of the film will be pleased to know that practically all of the story differences you hear were actually in the original John Milius script, before they were edited for various creative and/or monetary reasons. Some differences are subtle, like Thulsa Doom’s high priests are named Yaro and Rexor (rather than the familiar Rexor and Thorgrim). Others are larger events, like when Conan and Subotai enter the cities of Zamora looking to plunder the riches of the snake tower. While traveling through the filthy city of Shadizar, the script & adaptation details an extra scene of Conan and Subotai witnessing a snake cult procession moving through the streets. This is where Conan first hears the cursed chant of his nemesis Thulsa Doom since his parent slaying so long ago. He also gets his first glance of the haunting Princess he would later steal for King Osric, as she calls out to Conan from her platform, commanding him to “throw down his sword” in the name of Set. It’s a great scene.

My only gripe with the record adaptation is I wish it featured the film’s original score. While the orchestration Power Records uses is vast and surprisingly well done, it’s hard to stand against the classic work of composer Basil Poledouris. Though, with their excellent cast and matching production values, this can be easily overlooked. Especially when listening to the “new” dialog and scenes ultimately left on the cutting room floor. As a fan of all things Conan and especially the films, it creates quite a thrill and leaves you slightly imagining… what might have been.

Review of American Gods by Neil Gaiman

SFFaudio Audiobook Review

Fantasy Audiobook - American Gods by Neil GaimanAmerican Gods
By Neil Gaiman, read by George Guidall
2 MP3-CD’s/20 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2001
ISBN: 060836253
Themes: / Fantasy / Modern fantasy / Mythology / Legend / Americana / Picaresque / Gods /

A storm is coming. From his prison cell, Shadow can feel it bearing down on him, but he has no idea how it shred his already tattered life and cast the pieces into realms both familiar and mythical.

Shadow’s journey across the real and imagined terrain of America is the gravitational mass around which the rest of the novel accretes. We follow him out of prison, to a portentous meeting with his eventual employer Mr. Wednesday, back to his home town, and beyond to a magical carousel in a bizarre roadside attraction, to a small Wisconsin town peopled by a hundred unique, quirky characters, down to little Egypt, across a barren Indian reservation, and even to the geometric center of the contiguous states. His discoveries of the languishing deities brought to this continent and abandoned by assimilating immigrants are our own, and the questions he faces about the nature of human faith and the fulfillment of ourselves in mystical sacrifices are questions we find ourselves struggling to answer.

But Shadow’s story is not the only one. The mercurial Mr. Wednesday also has a tale to tell, as do a half-dozen or so other deities, spirits, leprechauns, and phantasms. Their stories are tough, tender, tragic, uplifting, and ultimately doomed. But even they are not the full measure of this book. There are also newly-minted gods of television, computers, covert operations, and other creations of modern angst. They represent a malevolent opposition to the old gods, and the storm Shadow has foreseen is the clash between the old and new gods in a battle for the devotion of an attention-deficit populace.

American Gods is one of the great novels of modern fantasy, and lands just short of the fence as a great American novel. Much of its power is derived from its complexity: It is composed of religion, adventure, a small-town thriller, a road novel, history, con-games, Native American myth, early American legend, intimate portraits of immigrants finding their small way in a huge new country, and sprawling adventure across the entire face of America. Written by an imported Englishman, it offers both an outsider’s attention to quirky detail and a native’s casual acceptance of all that comprises this slow-simmered stew of a country. Gaiman’s prose is graceful, simple, and his pacing is slow enough to nurture our sympathy, yet brisk enough to remain consistently exciting.

George Guidall’s narration is also excellent. His portrayals are groaning, snippy, kvetching and distinct. He conjures a pantheon of note-perfect Eastern European accents for a group of little-known gods, a crisp con-man’s coarseness for Mr. Wednesday, a mischievous African charm for Anansi, and a quiet desperation for Shadow. The only misstep is Shadow’s wife Laura, whose voice seems too fawningly girlish for the part. The MP3 CD format is the best so far invented, and the sound quality is crisp. Maybe too crisp, as you can clearly hear the edges of many of the edits.

After the multi-threaded end of the story, there is an extended interview with Gaiman which provides a delightful look at the man and the origins of his story. While I found it fascinating to see how such a large collection of ideas coalesced into a single transcendent work, the interview also rubs off just a little of the luster. Overall, though, the entire production is a pleasure from the first ominous chapter to the last. It will make an enviable centerpiece to your audio fiction collection.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

Review of Star Trek TNG: Q-Squared by Peter David

SFFaudio Review

Star Trek: Q-SquaredStar Trek: The Next Generation: Q-Squared
By Peter David; Read by John de Lancie
2 Cassettes – 3 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio
Published: 1994
ISBN: 0671891804
Themes: / Science Fiction / Star Trek / Q / Gods / Time / Multiple Universes /

You have no idea how screwed up this is.
— Q to Picard, Q-Squared

All the Star Trek talk floating around the internet has stirred my interest, so I dug out one of the first (and best) Star Trek audiobooks from my permanent stash. I sit here with hopes that the Paramount powers-that-be stop considering prequels. Does anyone want to see someone other than Nimoy play Mr. Spock? The future is wide open – pick a place out there and tell some great stories.

Before a cane stretches out from stage left to drag me off, I’ll get back to the review at hand. Q-Squared has everything I love in a Star Trek audiobook. First, it’s a big story. One that would be difficult to film for various reasons. Second, there are lots of pieces of Star Trek mythos throughout. You know, the kind of thing that makes a Trekker think “I remember that!” and sends him/her to watch the episode it occurred in. Third, the sound effects create the Star Trek feel without being overpowering. This is a luxury that these audiobooks have – the sound of a turbolift door, a few beeps, and the listener is on the bridge of the Enterprise without a sentence of prose. And fourth, an excellent reader. John de Lancie not only voices Q, the character he played on the screen, but he also skillfully portrays all the other characters.

In the book, Q has been given the difficult task of keeping an eye on Trelane who is a character from the Original Series episode entitled “The Squire of Gothos”. Peter David makes quick work of connecting Trelane to the Q Continuum. Unfortunately for Picard and crew, Trelane is even farther off plumb than he was in Kirk’s heyday – a fact demonstrated by the fact that he considers ripping apart the universe to be a valuable use of his spare time. To the Star Trek: The Next Generation characters, this results in the intersection of at least three well-conceived alternate universes. As the story moves forward, the universes flip like cards being shuffled in a deck.

Luckily, the audiobook is brilliantly abridged and edited. Though the universes shifted quickly, I had no problem keeping one Picard from another. This audiobook, if it was a Star Trek episode, would consistently be considered one of the finest the show had to offer. There are lots of copies of this one around – I urge you to find one.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

SFFaudio Header Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Anansi Boys by Neil GaimanAnansi Boys
By Neil Gaiman; Read by Lenny Henry
2 MP3-CDs – Approx. 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0060836857
Themes: / Fantasy / Gods / Legends / Humor /

It begins, as most things begin, with a song.”

Some children revere their fathers like gods, Fat Charlie Nancy sure didn’t, this despite his father actually being one. You see Mr. Nansi, made Charlie the butt of his many practical jokes – that is until he and his mother up-and moved away from the impecunious god. Now living in England as an adult Fat Charlie Nancy is engaged to be married and has a solid job working for a talent agent. His only problem is his future mother-in-law, who despite Charlie’s every attempt, still treats Charlie like a maliflous odor. It is very unfortuate therfore when a phone call reveals that Charlie’s father is dead. Even in death Mr. Nancy can embarass his son. In this case it is in the way he’s died. It seems Mr. Nancy died while on stage, in a karaoke bar, with his hands on another bar patron’s breasts. It is only when Fat Charlie returns to America for the funeral that he learns he may not be the only orphan that his father has left. Apparently all these years Fat Charlie has had a brother he’s not known about! A brother named… “Spider”?!? Spider, along with inheriting his father’s easy charm also got his father’s ‘special gifts’?!? When Charlie and Spider eventually do meet Spider decides to move into Charlie’s flat. This is followed by him framing Charlie for embezzlement and stealing his fiance. Fat Charlie’s only recourse is to fight dieties with dieties. So it’s off to America again where he’ll get an arachnivorous avian ally in the fight against his brother.

If you liked American Gods you’ll like Anansi Boys too, I know I sure did, and for much the same reason – and perhaps for one more. I’d always thought American Gods was inspired by Douglas Adams’ Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul; given that both novels feature the Norse god Odin walking the streets of modern world and being a bit out of sorts about the fact I think that’s a pretty safe assumption. Need more proof? Gaiman, in his early career actually wrote a book about Adams, entitled Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy it was part biography of Adams, part biography of his most famous novel. With Anansi Boys though, Gaiman proves himself truly and fully the worthy heir to Douglas Adams legacy. Gaiman writes as cleverly as Adams did, and now with Anansi Boys he starts making the jokes Adams could have made – something for the most part absent from American Gods. Though not aiming for all out hilarity, as Adams often did, Gaiman makes Anansi Boys quite, quite funny, and in ways that can only be described as Adamsonian. Both Gaiman novels are set in the same universe as each other but one needn’t read American Gods first to enjoy and follow Anansi Boys.

Lenny Henry, the narrator, is an English television actor and comedian. He’s an absolute delight to listen to. When I heard George Guidall’s reading of American Gods back in 2001 I was floored, so I was disappointed when I found out that he wouldn’t be reading Anansi Boys. But imagine my delight when I was floored again by Lenny Henry’s reading of Anansi Boys – Guidall and Henry’s reading styles couldn’t be more different, but they are both of that oh-so-stunning quality you hate to stop listening even for a minute. I pity those who sat down and read the paperbook version of Anansi Boys, they’ve really missed something special. Harper Audio has used light accenting of music here and there. It is quite wonderful.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Dark Worlds Of H.P. Lovecraft Volume 1: The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu by H.P Lovecraft

Horror Audiobooks - The Dunwich Horror and The Call of the CthulhuThe Dark Worlds Of H.P. Lovecraft Volume 1: The Dunwich Horror and The Call Of Cthulhu
By H.P. Lovecraft; Read by Wayne June
3 CDs – Approx 3.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Realms
Published: 2005
Themes: / Fantasy / Horror / Gods / Evil / Mathematics / Dreams /

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

When Fantasy is inspired by science it can be especially powerful. H.P. Lovecraft built his mythos using the scientific concepts of his day. There could have been sensible talk of ‘other dimensions’ before the experiments surrounding the nature of light. And much of the alienness of his creations explicitly depend on such concepts in theoretical physics as non-euclidian geometry. With these concepts being in the air Lovecraft set out to plant a seed of churning fear with his fiction – turning the many unknowns science was uncovering into unspeakable horrors that lurk within the imagination. Combine this with Lovecraft’s dense and brooding prose and you’ve got something that no modern author could get away with. No modern author could, Lovecraft does. Audio Realms is starting to release the titles that make any classic fantasy fan salivate. Here in this terrific audiobook are two tales of horror that we declare to be SFFaudio Essential:

The Dunwich Horror is the tale of a backwater New England town with a devolving populace and one particularly strange family’s chronicle. It starts with two small things. The cataloguing of some mouldering old books and a disturbing birth of a new resident. These events are the begining of a new danger for the hamlet of Dunwich and possibly the Earth entire. What’s interesting here, as with so many early horror tales, is that Lovecraft creates evil not by revealing action directly but by atmosphere and appeal to our primitive revulsion reflex. Lovecraftian evil is not something created by moral degeneracy (though he does talk of that), but rather by sheer alieness, an atmosphere of ignorance and most of all a lurking dread.
I’m not sure it would make much sense to be an apologist for the Elder Gods who’d consume us without a thought – but what exactly makes them so evil? Since everyone who finds out has their sanity blasted we’re not likely to find out very soon.

The Call Of Cthulhu is a reconstructed tale. A nephew finds in the his recently deceased uncle’s study some strange documents. A young nephew discovers in his recently deceased uncle’s study some correspondences and notes, along with a mysterious and disturbing statue. It seems that several mysteriously similar cults worship of a being, who they call Cthulhu. A sea voyage eventually yielded a brush with an unearthly force. I won’t reveal any more of the plot, but I will say this, I think Philip K. Dick may have been inspired by this story for his novel Galactic Pot Healer. This creepy tale is perhaps the definitive Lovecraftian work. They even named a great role playing game after it. One suggestion, this one is pretty scary, you may want to wear brown pants while listening.

Narrator Wayne June’s voice will give you the absolute lurking creeps. His deep raspy voice is also used to good effect for all the narration, when he is infrequently called upon to do the voices of the damned he distinguishes between them well. This is the best Lovecraft adaptation to audio I’ve heard and more frightening than hell. For full effect a listener should turn down the lights, put on a good set of headphones, sit in a lonesome room with a view of the sea and pray that Lovecraft was just making all this stuff up.

Posted by Jesse Willis