Review of Something Wicked This Way Comes (with A Sound of Thunder) by Ray Bradbury

Fantasy Audiobooks - Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray BradburySomething Wicked This Way Comes (with A Sound of Thunder)
By Ray Bradbury; Read by Stefan Rudnicki
8 CD’s – 9.5 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
ISBN: 0786175354
Date Published: 2005
Themes: / Fantasy / Halloween / Carnival / Magic / Supernatural / Aging /

Sometime each October, a line is crossed; the line between falling leaves and fallen leaves, between shirtsleeves and a jacket, between the relief that summer has ended and the slight dread of the upcoming winter. Most of us don’t really notice the moment of crossing; we look up sometime afterwards and wonder where all the pumpkins came from. Some people, though, are exquisitely aware of this moment; they live in it, they draw it out and savor it, and a special few of them create art about it that allows the rest us to actually experience it. Dave McKean captures it with his eerie photo collages, M. Ward puts his old-young-man voice to good use singing about it, particularly in a track called “One Life Away,” and Terry Gilliam almost-but-not-quite captured it on film in the recent The Brothers Grimm. Ray Bradbury did some of his best work while inhabiting it. In The Illustrated Man and The October Country, he told stories about people’s lives intersecting that weird border. In The Halloween Tree, he abandoned story for the most part, and spent his time describing the sensory experience of the moment of crossing. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, recently released as an audiobook by Blackstone Audio, he skillfully combined plot and description to examine this and life’s other unnoticed, but profound, sea changes.

Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are the young protagonists of the story, best friends born just two minutes apart, but each on a different side of the line. Each of the boys personifies their respective border country; Will is blue-eyed and blonde, responsible, mannered, charming, the type of kid who looks like he was born wearing a scout uniform. Jim is darker, his eyes and his hair, but also his mood and personality. While it would be easy (and tempting) to say that Will is “better” than Jim, Bradbury shows his wisdom by describing the value of both of the boys’ attributes, how one, without the other, is vulnerable and incomplete, and how the different elements each boy bring to the friendship ultimately strengthen it.

The story follows Will and Jim as they cross a number of boundaries; the October line, the line between boyhood and adolescence, and the line between innocence and experience. The arrival of a strange carnival to the boys’ idyllic town complicates these passages. “Cougar and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show” is indeed something wicked, and the danger it presents to the boys and their town makes for an engaging, suspenseful tale.

Audiobook veteran Stephen Rudnicki reads Something Wicked, and gives a largely enjoyable performance, with only a few rough spots. Listeners familiar with Rudnicki will understand that dialogue between two pubescent boys isn’t exactly the perfect material for his sonorous voice. Everything is forgiven, however, when Mr. Dark makes his entrance. Rudnicki’s reading of the tattooed ringmaster’s introductory sentence literally gave me chills. Mr. Cougar, the Dust Witch, and the rest of the Shadow Show freaks are also done justice by Rudnicki’s interpretations.

Blackstone Audio seems to have heard my pleas for more DVD-type extra features on audio books, and have included an extra disc with a Bradbury short story, “A Sound of Thunder,” also read by Rudnicki. The story, a powerful exploration of the dangers of time travel, was recently made into a motion picture starring Edward Burns (and almost universally panned).

An interesting element of this audio book is that, whether by accident or design, the discs almost invariably ended at a point of terrific suspense. Rather than simply turning a page to assuage my anxiety about the fate of the characters, I was scrambling to eject discs, open cases, balance discs on my various fingers and insert new discs. Call me a masochist, but I thought it actually made the experience more enjoyable. Even listeners who don’t share my Hitchockian penchant for prolonging a story’s tension will have a hard time finding a better group of guides than Bradbury, Rudnicki, Jim, Will, and Mr. Dark for this year’s passage over that peculiar line.

Review of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Fantasy Audiobooks - Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray BradburySomething Wicked This Way Comes
By Ray Bradbury; Read by Paul Hecht
7 CD’s – 8 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Recorded Books
ISBN: 0788746375
Date Published: 1999
Themes: / Fantasy / Halloween / Carnival / Magic / Supernatural / Aging /

First of all, it was October. A rare month for boys.
— Prologue, Something Wicked This Way Comes

As I write this, it’s a cool October night. The trees outside are starting to drop autumn leaves. It’s not difficult, especially after finishing this novel, to see why October turns my thoughts to Ray Bradbury more than any other author. He can instill the spirit of Halloween in a person the same way that Dickens instills the spirit of Christmas, and Something Wicked This Way Comes is his work that does it best.

Paul Hecht, in one of his finest narrating performances, reads this unabridged version of Bradbury’s novel, and adds an infectious enthusiasm to the poetic prose. I was captured by his performance.

The novel revolves around Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, who are best friends. They are both nearly thirteen years old, and it’s the week before Halloween. Into town comes a lightning rod salesman who warns of an approaching storm. Later that same night a carnival comes to town, full of bizarre people and sinister magic. The boys are immediately drawn to it and, after an unsettling event involving a carousel, know that they are dealing with something dangerous and powerful. The two boys are very different people, so they react to the carnival, its people, and its magic in different ways.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a novel full of images. The carnival, the carousel, the boys themselves running here and there, the lightning rod covered with ancient symbols… those images come through with crystal clarity in this audiobook. Happy Halloween!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Catskin by Kelly Link

Catskin
By Kelly Link; Read by Kelly Link
|REALAUDIO|* – Approx. 56 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Broadcaster: WNYC
Broadcast: Nov. 1st 2002
Themes: / Fantasy / Horror / Magic / Witchcraft / Cats /

This short story by Nebula, World Fantasy, and James Tiptree Jr. Award winning author Kelly Link can be heard by listening to this archived radio show.

This is an unusual tale of the death of a lonely witch whose magical family must deal with the death of their mother. Frightening mental images and an unconventional approach to traditional horror and fantasy marks much of Kelly Link’s work . Like Neil Gaiman, Link is working with traditional themes, but overturning our expectations and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, Link reads this tale very matter-of-factly, something all too common with author-performed stories and of course this adds nothing to an otherwise interesting tale. Link’s reading is also accompanied by a constant tinkling and trumpeting musical background – if it merely introduced and concluded the reading it would be great but because it doesn’t it simply distracts from the telling. One other minor issue is the long pauses up to six seconds. Such pauses make the listener think the reading has concluded prematurely. Despite these audio production problems, Catskin makes for a chilling Halloween themed listen.

*Be sure to zip all the way to the end of the first hour of the show and then to the 2 minute mark of the second hour of the show.

Posted by Jesse Willis