Interview with Allan Kaster
May 20th 2005
Here’s an exclusive interview with the creative mind behind Infinivox. Allan Kaster explains how his small press study guide company Audiotext has managed to produce so many GREAT SCIENCE FICTION STORIES that really and truly are great!
JESSE: When I first googled “Allan Kaster” I didn’t come up with much beyond Audiotext and Infinivox links – except for one mention of you attending a Science Fiction convention held in Texas. You also have eBay listings of the Infinivox titles, but does that small google footprint mean are you not fully on the net? Or are you just a private person?
ALLAN: I’m not really net savvy so I’m not certain what you mean by not fully on the net. When it comes to the net, I feel rather like a caveman practicing dentistry on his best friend. It’s kind of messy and always painful. However, I do know that Audiotext has a web site at http://www.audiotexttapes.net. AudioText is incorporated but might best be classified as a small or independent “press”.
JESSE: Hah! I think what I meant by ‘not fully on the net’ was it is hard to find out much about you online. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, your interests?
ALLAN: I’m a baseball-loving, guitar-playing, science fiction fan that happens to be a native Texan that can’t get enough Mexican food. I’m fortunate to have a loving wife and two teenage kids. By training, I’m an anaerobic microbiologist.
JESSE: Neat! Have you read Greg Bear’s Blood Music? Not being a microbiologist myself I don’t know how implausible it was but I was blown away by both the novel and the short story.
ALLAN: I’ve read the short story but not the novel. The short story is a must-read classic.
JESSE: I agree with you. Dove audio did a nice recording of the short story and Recorded Books did a unabridged recording of the novel. I’m fond of both.
ALLAN: About Blood Music, it’s hard for me to visualize intelligence in bacteria as they basically have a life span of 20 minutes. They’re also pretty small … much smaller than a flash drive. But nanotechnology is going to change a lot of things.
JESSE: No doubt. No Doubt… I was telling Scott, my partner here at SFFAUDIO, that if I was forced to pick just one small audiobook publisher from which I would listen to audiobooks I would pick Infinivox. There just isn’t a bad title in your catalogue and there are several I’d classify as the absolute top. How did you come to choose the different authors and stories?
ALLAN: Thank you for your very kind comments. The credit belongs to the studio engineers and actors that create these productions and the authors that pen the stories. While I try to get a mix of authors that represent the mix of viewpoints and styles available in science fiction, I tend to choose stories rather than authors. While there’s no set formula, I select stories that have resonated with me in some fashion after reading them. A story that made me say, “WOW,” or made me feel good inside.
JESSE: They all pretty much strike me the same way – these arent just a random cross section of Science Fiction stories… Do you listen to audiobooks or do you just make them? What do you like? Who do you like? Narrators? Authors? Particular audiobooks? Which format (Mp3, CD, cassette)?
ALLAN: I listen to poetry, business, science, and mainstream fiction and nonfiction audiobooks, as well as science fiction whenever possible. Format isn’t a big issue for me but I probably lean toward the CD. I’m really fond of some of the sci-fi audiobooks I happened to find many years ago when I first started to listen to them. Sunset’s Productions “Chronicles of Amber” series (Roger Zelazny narrating) is an awesome set of audiobooks. Dercum Audio’s short fiction sci-fi titles are wonderful. I really like their Murray Leinster and Poul Anderson collections. Durkin Hayes Publishing came out with a Paperback Audio series that included sci-fi titles written by Clifford Simak, Roger Zelazny, Ray Bradbury, and Pat Murphy that are nice. At one time Brilliance Corporation had an interesting short fiction series called Stellar Audio with stories by the likes of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, and Frederick Pohl. And I like the HG Wells titles that Commuter’s Library has produced.
You’ve got excellent taste sir! You’ve picked all the best publishers of short science fiction stories in my humble opinion. And Sunset Productions’ Zelazny titles are probably the most sought after fantasy audiobooks in existence! I’m going to have to shell out for one some day!
ALLAN: Do you have any idea what became of Sunset Productions or Dercum Audio?
JESSE: Scott knows at least a little more about Sunset
Productions than I do, but I do know that Americana Audiobooks has some of the rights and/or masters for the Zelazny titles, but what they release are all abridgements. Dercum Audio seems to have completely disappeared. I purchased a few titles from them in the mid 1990s. Perhaps they went with a whimper. Amazon.com shows a listing for one audiobook from them as current as March 2004 but I suspect that is a typographical error…. When did you come up with the idea of publishing the GREAT SCIENCE FICTION STORIES series?
ALLAN: Audiotext is primarily a science study guide publisher. Study guide sales are seasonal. So AudioText wanted to fill in the slow sales seasons with a line that was not so seasonal. I’ve been reading sci-fi since I was a kid and thought that a line of sci-fi titles could fit the bill. And so I was able to sell my partners on Infinivox.
JESSE: That makes sense. Tell me something about your narrators. Amy Bruce has this amazing emotional range, she’s truly gifted in being able to bring out the affective impact of a story to the listener. Pat Bottino, who reads among other things, Rammer by Larry Niven, is possibly my favorite – his narration has the funny little quaver – its very cool. Theo Moffet has a strong vocal presence, and is again someone I’ve never heard before – where did you get all these great narrators?
ALLAN: We’re fortunate that Houston has a vibrant theatrical community. That’s where I found Amy Bruce and Theo Moffet. They were both stage actors. Just before going into the studio, Amy would go through a peculiar body stretch and vocal routine that I’ve never seen any other actor do. Once she got behind the mic she was mostly definitely “in the zone.” The emotional punch Amy provides in “Cilia-of-Gold” makes it one of my favorite titles of ours. But to fully appreciate her talent listen to all the voices she performs in “The Shobies’ Story.” As for Theo, well, she most definitely had the voice, intonation, and attitude that a story like “Beggars in Spain” required. I think she pulled it off magnificently. I had heard Pat Bottino narrate a Larry Niven novel and thought he’d done an excellent job. So I sought him out originally to read only “Rammer.” He did such an incredible job with that title that I asked him to do a few others for us. “Under Siege” is probably my favorite by him.
Okay now I’m going to have to find that Larry Niven novel. What was it called?
ALLAN: It might have been The Integral Trees.
JESSE: Oh that’s right, I had entirely forgotten about that one. I’ll have to listen to it again. I’m loving the new CD reissues by the way – tell me a little about them – the sound is phenomenal! Have you considered MP3 CDs or MP3 downloads? Are the longer than 80 minute Infinivox audiobooks going to be issued on 2 CD sets? If so I’d like to place an order.
ALLAN: The CD re-issues have been along time in coming. We’re trying to catch up with the changes technology has brought about. I think CD downloads are definitely in our future but I couldn’t tell you when. Most of our titles less than 80 minutes are out on CD. We’re planning to cut out some of the intro and ending music to “Guest of Honor” and “Hollywood Kremlin” so that they’ll fit on a single CD. The titles that can’t be cut down to 80 minutes we’re hoping to re-issue as 2 CD sets by the end of the year.
JESSE: Infinivox does use a bit more music than almost any audiobook publisher I can think of – even a bit more maybe than say Dercum Audio (which had some great music as well). But it always seems to come in at the appropriate time and assist the storytelling. For example the the drumming used to suggest the passage of time in Connie Willis’ Cibola. As long as the cuts don’t effect the production too much I’m for it. The CD sound quality is truly awesome. I look forward to the rest being released!
ALLAN: We’ve just finished re-mastering Guest Of Honor on CD!!!
JESSE: Great! As soon as it’s ready for publication let me be the first customer. That’s one of my favorite stories from Infinivox.
JESSE: Was “Bwana (Tales of Kirinyaga #3) By Michael D. Resnick; Read Pat Bottino ISBN: 1884612296”, released? I saw it listed on Amazon.com. But I haven’t found a copy.
ALLAN: “Bwana” was never released.
JESSE: Any word as to when all the other stories in Mike Resnick’s Kirinyaga series will come out? Is that still a possibility? What about “House of Bones” by Robert Silverberg”?
ALLAN: Our plans for the Kirinyaga series are on hiatus. I love this series. Most of Mike’s short fiction is simply brilliant. But I really need to get with Mike before picking up this series again. I’m just starting to look for a narrator for “House of Bones” and with a little luck Infinivox will be releasing this title before the start of summer.
JESSE: I look forward to it. Silverberg is a natural choice for you guys, he’s written some terrific short fiction, and some excellent novels. Have you heard George Guidall’s reading of A Hero Of The Empire? It is terrific!
ALLAN: I’ve read the entire ROMA ETERNA series but haven’t listened to the audio version of A Hero of the Empire yet. The whole series deserves to be on audio.
JESSE: For someone so prolific and often so good Silverberg is woefully underrepresetned on audio. A Hero Of
The Empire is available as an audible.com exclusive by the way.
JESSE: Your audiobook company covers themes like Space Opera, Comedy, Time Travel, Biotechnology, Alternate History, Hard SF, and more. This is not typical, many small presses stick to just one author or one arena (like The Reader’s Chair and all the Lois McMaster Bujold titles). The only single unifying theme I can find with Infinivox is that they are all really good. What was your thinking on this? How did you pick the stories?
ALLAN: Science fiction is not just robot stories, or first contact stories, or time-travel stories, or hard science fiction. It’s all of the above and more. In order to name our series “Great Science Fiction Stories,” I felt that we had to choose stories that represented a cross section of the sub-genres in the field. And I hoped to choose stories that, rather than diminish with time, might actually grow in stature over the years.
I think they will. I’m a big fan of short fiction, short stories, novellas, novelettes. But again that isn’t the mainstream. How did you come to focus on stories of that length?
ALLAN: For the most part, I favor short fiction over novels. The best short fiction has a certain underlying lilt to it that most novels can’t hope to accomplish. Likewise, short fiction has an intensity and immediacy that’s difficult for most novels to match. And as a practical matter, I felt that it was necessary to get experience with short fiction before attempting longer works, both from a technological sense and in a marketing sense.
JESSE: So do you think you might do some short novels as well some day? Almost all my favorite novels are under 300 pages.
ALLAN: I can think of several novels I’d like to record. We’re just not ready now. But it’s something down the road.
JESSE: May that road be a short one.
Posted by Jesse Willis