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

Review of Hollywood Fantasies: Ten Surreal Visions of Tinsel Town

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Hollywood FantasiesHollywood Fantasies – Ten Surreal Visions of Tinsel Town
By Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Ed Gorman, John Jakes, David Morrell, Michael Reaves, David Schow, Robert Sheckley, Robert Silverberg and Henry Slesar; Read by Susan Anspach, David Birney, Harlan Ellison, Jamie Farr, Laini Kazan, Steve Kmetko, Harley Jane Kozak, Favid Madden and John Rubinstein
4 cassettes – Approx 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Dove Audio
Published: 1997 – hardcopy out of print (available for download at Audible)
ISBN: 0787109460
Themes: Fantasy / Hollywood / Movies / Television / Westerns / Witchcraft / Virtual Reality / Magic /

Learn the truth behind the mask of Hollywood in these ten bizarre tales of dreams and dream weavers, movies and movie-makers, by some of the most respected fantasy writers of our time.

This disappointing collection has a few redeeming tales, but few must-listen gems. The majority of the stories feel like filler – many feature tacked on twist endings that are less than stellar. Apparently Harlan Ellison’s reading of his own story, “Laugh Track,” has been modified in the performance – with the addition of a few lines here and there – if anybody’s gonna mess with a story it best be the author. The cover art is utilitarian but colorful, packaging for this audiobook is however very poor, most examples of these 4 cassette plastic cases with cardboard covers have become unbound as the glue holding the two together was not up to its task. Another minor annoyance, the mislabeling of cassette 4, Ed Gorman’s story “Gunslinger” is said to run through all of side 7 and onto 8, when it is the reverse. “Dead Image” starts on side 7 and runs through all of side 8.

Stories Included:

“The Never-Ending Western Movie” by Robert Sheckley
Jamie Farr’s gruff cowboy voice successfully narrates this 1976 short story, which posits an alternate world in which the old-fashioned movie serial westerns and reality television have merged. This is hard enough on the actors, who now have to do their own stunts, but when the prop guns fire real bullets acting scared isn’t too tough.

“One For The Horrors” by David Schow
A run-down movie theater shows prints of lost movie masterpieces like The Man Who Would Be King starring Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable? The only thing that could top that is what’s playing tomorrow night! This one really is fantasy! Strictly for film connoisseurs – it held my interest but could have exited the stage a little more interestingly. Author David Schow must have done some fascinatingly fun research for this one. Reader Steve Kmetko works some magic of his own in the theater of the ear.

“The Man Who Wanted To Be In The Movies” by John Jakes
George wants to be in movies, so he visits his local licensed witch to cast a spell that’ll do the job. Harley Jane Kozak, the narrator, is fine – but the story itself is absolutely pointless and uninteresting.

“Laugh Track” by Harlan Ellison
Have you ever wondered where the laugh tracks from television sitcoms come from? Meet Wally Modisett, the Phantom Sweetener. Originally appearing in “Weird Tales” Magazine in 1984, this overly lengthy tale is almost made up for in part by Ellison’s enthusiastic performance, told in first person.

“Reality Unlimited’ by Robert Silverberg
Virtual Reality movies. Neat idea, but that’s all it is, the idea is there but the story is M.I.A.. When this tale was written in 1957 it might have had some point to it, today it’s barely a curiosity. A disappointing story by the usually reliable Silverberg. But on the other hand Susan Anspach reading of it was fine.

“The Movie People” by Robert Bloch
Movie extras have been in Hollywood films since the silent era, but just because they have no lines doesn’t mean we can’t read between them. Adequate and with a modicum of originality this tale would have benefited from a few more drafts before publication – it wanted to be a better story. John Rubenstein takes his time with the telling – a laconic voice that doesn’t detract from the story.

“Werewind” by Michael Reaves
A serial killer and a lonely howling wind may be connected. The only question is how. Marginally listenable, Michael Reaves’ story isn’t predictable, but neither is it comprehensible. It feels like a refugee from a Danielle Steele novelization of A Nightmare on Elm Street – and that doesn’t make any sense to me either! David Madden’s reading is far better than this short deserves.

“The Movie Makers” by Henry Slesar
Henry Slesar’s ode to 1950’s science fiction b-movies succeeds – in disappointing the same way those bad movies do – minus the cheesy special visual effect. The twist ending is also predictable. Lainie Kazan’s serviceable reading is adequate to the story’s requirements – though consider the predominant male characterization a female narrator is a questionable choice.

“Gunslinger” by Ed Gorman
In the early Twentieth century cowboys were heading away from the range and towards Hollywood, where they’d take on roles in the burgeoning western film frenzy. One man however is has a score to settle with one of these cowboys turned film actors, and its gonna be real bullets that’ll fly. “Gunslinger is illogically placed in this collection – it is not fantasy. It is set in Hollywood, but isn’t particularly fanciful. David Birney doesn’t have much to do here, but neither does he fail to achieve what’s required – to tell the story.

“Dead Image” by David Morrell
A thinly veiled tale about movie rebel James Dean, that asks the question: If Dean had a second chance at life would he do things any different? This very interesting tale depends upon a listener’s knowledge of James Dean’s life and death – also neat was the appearance of a Dennis Hopper type. Morrell’s tale isn’t likely to be turned into a film itself, but it’s full of neat ruminations on destiny and fame. Jamie Farr’s deep voice makes a second, and very welcome, appearance in this collection. He’s becoming one of my favorite celebrity narrators.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Mystic Warrior by Tracy and Laura Hickman

Fantasy Audiobooks - Mystic Warrior by Tracy Hickman and Laura HickmanMystic Warrior
By Tracy and Laura Hickman; Read by Lloyd James
12 CDs – Approx 15 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786186860
Themes: / Epic fantasy / Dreams / Magic / Dragons /

Thrice upon a time there was a world that was three worlds; one place that was three places; one history that was told in three sagas all at the same time. Thrice upon a time the gods foresaw a time when three worlds would become one; when the children of their creation would face the binding of the worlds.

Thus begins Book One of The Bronze Canticles: Mystic Warrior by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Fans of Hickman’s work should be extremely pleased with this audiobook. Lloyd James does a fantastic job performing, really embracing the epic fantasy and giving it an energy and depth on par with the finest narrators in the business.

This book is the first volume of a fantasy series in which the Human world, the Goblin world, and the Faery world are being slowly drawn together. The main human character is Galen Arvad, who experiences the drawing together of the worlds through dreams, as do couterparts in the other two worlds. Unfortunately, Galen’s world views these dreams as lunacy, and they seek to put such people to death. Galen does his best to avoid this while discovering the reasons behind all the trouble.

There are scenes from all three worlds in the book, each one interesting in its own right. There are swords, dragons, dwarves, and magic wrapped in an interesting story peopled with good characters. Matched with Lloyd James’ first-rate narration, this is a winner for fans of epic fantasy.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Fantasy Audiobooks - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
By J.K. Rowling, Read by Jim Dale
7 Cassettes – approx 12 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Listening Library
Published: February 2000
ISBN: 0807282316
THEMES: / Fantasy / Young Adult / Magic / School / Magical Creatures / Childhood /

The Harry Potter juggernaut is about to leave port once more. The film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is scheduled for release on June 4. I’ve got two kids myself, both Potter fans, so I thought I’d revisit this audiobook.

It was my pleasure to do so because the Harry Potter audiobooks (all five to date) represent one of the finest matches of reader to material that I have heard. Jim Dale is brilliant as… well, as everybody in this book. He reads with a nuanced energy and enthusiasm for the text, creating an audio experience that’s every bit as entertaining as any movie. More so, in fact, as the novel has a depth that the films simply can’t match.

The story? After extracting himself from yet another summer spent with the Dursleys, Harry discovers that a man named Sirius Black has escaped from the infamous Azkaban prison. Further, Potter finds out that Black is a friend of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (er… Voldemort), and therefore out to get him. Harry spends the school year trying to live normally at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry while the adult teachers try to keep him protected. Flanked by his best friends (Ron and Hermione) he navigates the year, discovering things about himself along the way.

Not only has J.K. Rowling filled Hogwarts with interesting and funny characters, but she’s also added the witty details of the Wizarding world, which are endlessly entertaining. Harry and his friends grow up a little in each book – this is not the same Harry we met in the first book, and is not the same Harry we meet in books 4 and 5. This is what I think makes the book so appealing to adults as well as children – we enjoy experiencing Hogwarts as much as the kids, but with the added dimension of viewing childhood from afar.

A fun, engaging story. An excellent reader. Fabulous.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

Fantasy Audiobooks - Nine Princes in Amber by Roger ZelaznyNine Princes in Amber
By Roger Zelazny; Read by the author
4 Cassettes – 6 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Sunset Productions
Published: 1998
ISBN: 759433069046
Themes: / Fantasy / Magic / Parallel Worlds / Immortality /

At the beginning of this book, Corwin, an immortal prince of Amber, wakes up in a hospital bed without his memory. He slowly figures things out – who he is, where he is, and most interesting, who’s on his side and who isn’t. As he goes through this process, so does the listener, discovering the world through Corwin’s eyes.

But Corwin is not just human. He’s a member of the royal family of Amber, which is the only true world there is. All other worlds in the universe, including the one in which you and I sit, are but shadows of Amber. One gets to Amber only if one remembers exactly what Amber looks like, and if one has the power to subtly change the environment until it matches the one true world.

The royal family of Amber is dysfunctional, to say the least. Corwin has many brothers, among them Eric, Random, Bleys, and Caine. They all want the throne, and some are willing to kill for it. As Corwin becomes more aware, he too faces that decision – how far is he willing to go to gain the throne himself?

Roger Zelazny narrates this unabridged novel. He has a deep voice that I’ve heard compared to Bogart’s – takes a little getting used to, but the result is personal and satisfying.

The novel is wonderful – vintage Zelazny. I was delighted when I first found this (and the other four Amber novels) on unabridged audio. It was published by Sunset Productions in both unabridged and abridged formats. The abridged version is “enhanced” with sound effects, and features changes to Zelazny’s voice to indicate that the narrator is in a library or underwater, etc… that version is an example of an audiobook that has been overwhelmed with sound effects at the cost of the material. I much prefer this unabridged version, not only because it’s unabridged, but also because it is Zelazny’s reading without distortion.

Americana Publishing now owns the rights to the Sunset Productions, and has re-released the Amber novels, unfortunately only in the abridged format.

Review of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Fantasy Audiobooks - Neverwhere by Neil GaimanNeverwhere
By Neil Gaiman; Read by Gary Bakewell
2 Cassettes; 2 hours [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Highbridge Company
Published: 1997
ISBN: 1565112318
Themes: / Fantasy / London Underground / Magic / Urban Legend /

Neil Gaiman is certainly one of the most decorated storytellers at work today – his books seem to be on the final ballot for every conceivable award, and rightly so. His work is unique and fantastic (in both senses of the word).

Neverwhere follows part of the life of Richard Mayhew, a young businessman who lives in London. He lives a dreary life full of accounting books and deadlines, and is engaged to Jessica, who works in the art industry. His life is changed completely when he stops to help Door, a young woman he finds injured on the sidewalk. Unwittingly, he is introduced to a world he never knew existed – that of London Below. There, beneath the city, Door is not only Door, she is “Lady” Door. And an entire population lives down there, living lives unknown to those who live in London Above. Mayhew quickly finds himself hip deep in her problems as she runs from Croup and Vandemar (a pair of serial killers) and tries to solve the mystery of the murder of Door’s whole family. With them travels the Marquis of Carabas, a man willing to do much for a favor, and the famous Hunter, a female bodyguard. London Below is filled with interesting characters and more than a touch of magic.

Gary Bakewell (who plays Richard Mayhew in the BBC television series) does an excellent job with the narration. His voice drew me quickly into the wonderful strangeness. The sound effects and editing mimicked that of the television series. But, this was an abridgement. In this case, that means that the ending was rushed as events were crammed into that last quarter to make the 2-hour cut.

Having seen and enjoyed the BBC TV series, I can say that the parts that were missed along the way in this story are very worthwhile, and an unabridged version of Gaiman’s novel would be welcome. But this abridged audiobook captures the flavor of the story well. Even with the skipped events and rushed ending, the story makes sense, and it’s worth a listen.