Review of Toy Trouble by Engle and Barnes

SFFaudio Review

TITLEToy Trouble
By Engle & Barnes; Performed by a full cast
2 CDs – ~2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Published: 1996
ISBN: 1423308387
Themes: / Horror / Fantasy / Possession / Toys / Young Adult

Some stories inspire great things. This story, being the second “Strange Matter” release I have listened to, has inspired me to write a computer program to generate any future reviews of the series. The reviewer just plugs in the story title, the main character, and the horror de jeur, and voila, out pops a review that starts like this: “Karen Sanders is a likeable little protagonist as the story opens. But even the first scene, in which she ‘loses’ one of her new toys in a tragic head-swapping surgery gone wrong, drags on past enjoyment…” and ends like this: “And so we come to a fiery, bloody conclusion that has left all sense and interesting character development so far behind, we can hardly remember what such noble pursuits feel like…” In between lie paragraphs of brilliant prose riddled with verbal howitzer shells like “pejorative” and “bamboozlement” to make you forget you’re reading something a computer typed.

It’s not that Toy Trouble is any worse than Plant People, it’s that the two are bad in the same ways. The general flow of action, the characters, and the gradual deterioration of the promising story into silly drivel are so frighteningly similar that the pair seem generated from the same generic outline.

I will say that the cast and audio effects people make a valiant attempt to bring Toy Trouble to life, but, like Karen Sanders’ doll, this story never had a chance. After the initial attempt to make our diminutive heroine seem something like an actual girl, the authors are happy to simply toss her around, smacking her against an evil spirit (a ghast, if you care) that possesses toys, her weirdo brother and her woefully underdeveloped friends in a series of increasingly improbable and illogical perils. No amount of voice acting or Foley wizardry can vivify that.

So save your time and money for something worthier of your attention. Like, say, a nice, short Computer-Generated Review®.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

Review of Misery and Pity by C. J. Henderson

Horror Audiobooks - Misery and Pity by C.J. HendersonMisery and Pity
By C. J. Henderson, read by Jeffery West, Bob Barr and C.J. Henderson
1 CD/ 55 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Realms
Published: ??
ISBN: 0973159634
Themes: / Horror / Damnation / Possession / Vampires / Fantasy / Suicide / Charity

On the back cover of this audio book, C. J. Henderson is given the unblushing accolade “The Master of Modern Horror”, but I found the stories in this collection to be charming throwbacks. The stories often have classic arrangements, such as two old friends meeting at a restaurant to swap tales and compare their fates, or dark, Poe-like trips into hells of a character’s own making. They juxtapose the familiar with the impossible, the ominous with the disarmingly reassuring, and make for a tasty light lunch of dark imaginings.

The title story, read by Jeffrey West borrows, I assume, from Chinese myth, but in a way that doesn’t seem the least bit Chinese. Two old friends meet in an exotic Hong Kong Dim Sum where the diners bring their birds with them and let them roost in the rafters while they eat. A simple comment about one’s latest doings and destiny leads to a story of Chinese soul-vampires and a fiery confrontation with a monster that is the last of its kind. West’s narration is modern and seamless, almost invisible for its perfect attention to the story.

Bob Barr, on the other hand, narrates “Hope” with visible and sensational style. Somehow, he brings the narrative force of a tent revival and a fireside ghost story together, occasionally slowing the story to such a languid pace that you feel not only the weight of each syllable, but of their attack and decay as well. It’s very effective for a tale dealing with sin, damnation, and unutterable evil wearing the most insidious disguise.

But that’s where the professional narration ends, and where the quality of the material begins to dip, too. C.J. Henderson’s readings sound nerdy and occasionally belabored. And if he brings any authorial insight to the pieces, it is to point out that they are artificial and clattery. “The Buzzing of Flies” seems especially overwrought, as well as dull and predictable. “That’s the One” makes no real sense, being an illustration of life imitating a random thought about a specific work of art, but it has a loose freedom that seems to float where the previous story falls. Perhaps the finest of the final three is “Sacrifice”, which seems to be a wicked, wicked satire of the bizarre and pointless reactions we have to the injustices of the world.

All in all, Misery and Pity isn’t a bad way to kill almost an hour. The whole package has a likeable simplicity to it, and an unselfconscious lightness that makes it frivolously fun. Groundbreaking? Life-changing? Nah, but it is enjoyable.

Posted by Kurt Dietz