Hypnobobs: Mother Of Toads by Clark Ashton Smith

SFFaudio Online Audio

Mother Of Toads by Clark Ashton Smith

The horrors of medieval witchery in rural France! Hear Mr. Jim Moon narrate the “darkly erotic” Mother Of Toads, originally censored in its Weird Tales publication, Mr. Jim Moon reads it in its “full uncut glory.”

HypnobobsMother Of Toads
By Clark Ashton Smith; Read by Mr. Jim Moon
1 |MP3| – Approx. 1 Hour 16 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Podcaster: Hypnobobs
Podcast: January 27, 2013
Weird and powerful was the effect on the young apprentice of the potion given him by Mere Antoinette, known by the villagers as “the Mother of Toads.” First published in Weird Tales, July 1938.

Here’s a |PDF| made from the censored version that appeared in Weird Tales.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Sinner by Mark Teppo

SFFaudio Review

Sinner by Mark TeppoSinner: A Prequel to the Mongoliad
By Mark Teppo; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (separate or included in deluxe edition of The Mongoliad: Book One)
2 hours [UNABRIDGED]

Themes: / witchcraft / mongoliad /

Publisher Summary:

A severed head and a cry of “Witchcraft!” start a frenzied witch hunt in a sleepy German village. When Konrad von Marburg, a Church inquisitor, arrives on the scene, innocent and guilty alike find themselves subject to the inquisitor’s violent form of purification. Two knights of the Ordo Militum Vindicis Intactae, Andreas and Raphael, soon arrive in the village. Though each journeys on a separate path, they quickly band together to confront the inquisitor as he whips the townspeople into a righteous bloodlust. When her dead husband’s severed head appears on her doorstep, a local woman is charged with practicing heretical rituals. It is up to the knights to discover the truth behind the brutal murder before the torches are lit and the woman is burned at the stake. Their task proves daunting, though, as the townspeople have their own long-buried secrets and sins that they want to keep hidden — even if it means allowing the sacrifice of an innocent woman. With Sinner: A Prequel to the Mongoliad, Mark Teppo forges the first link in a chain that leads to the world-shattering events of the Mongoliad series.

I got this book as a part of my copy of the audiobook of  The Mongoliad: Book One. I haven’t yet read The Mongoliad: Book One; I decided that I wanted to read the prequel first. I have one or two other prequel stories, which I think I’ll wait to read until after I’ve read The Mongoliad: Book One and The Mongoliad: Book Two and possibly The Mongoliad: Book Three. The reason I read this one before the others was that I happened to have it on my iPhone in that order. I don’t think anything was lost by reading it before the main books…I just want to see what the main books offer before going into the shorter-story prequels.

The story itself introduced two characters who I believe play a role in The Mongoliad: Book One, Raphael and Andreas, two knights who meet by happenstance in a small town at a time when the town has suffered a tragedy. Otto, the husband of Goetta, was murdered, and Goetta stands accused for the crime. To make matters worse, an Inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church is also passing through the town and he decides to personally adjudicate the matter. Raphael is an older knight, mostly wiser, and has a history with this Inquisitor. Andreas is younger, brasher, quicker to jump in…and that’s where I’ll leave the description, without spoiling anything.

The story was light and I’m guessing sets the stage for events in The Mongoliad: Book One. I suspect readers will learn more about the Inquisitor (named Conrad) in that book, and of course about Raphael and Andreas. One hopes that Raphael will be able to teach young Andreas a bit of his worldly wisdom. And I expect that Andreas will be able to help Raphael recover…or possibly seek revenge, from issues in his past. The story here really set up these characters, wrapped around an otherwise predictable plot.

There’s nothing wrong with predictability, especially when interesting and intriguing characters are introduced. It’s even better when the story isn’t drawn out; it didn’t need to be any longer. This story whet my appetite for the main tome and now I’d like to see what else is in store for these guys.

Luke Daniels is a prolific audiobook narrator, with good reason. His narration for this story, as with so many of the stories he’s done, is spot-on. He adds life to the characters without distracting from the story. If I had one minor complaint, it’s that it was sometimes hard to understand what he was saying when he was using Raphael’s voice. He played the character with a heavy accent, which was sometimes hard to hear while driving down the road. The best way to listen to this type of book is to lay back and relax, put the earbuds in, and just listen. Daniels will take you to another place entirely…in this case, 13th century Europe. I’m looking forward to my next trip there with him in The Mongoliad: Book One.

Review by terpkristin.

Review of The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

SFFaudio Review

The Halloween Tree (audio drama) by Ray BradburyThe Halloween Tree
By Ray Bradbury; Performed by a full cast
2 CDs – 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781433232145
Themes: / Fantasy / Halloween / Death / Religion / Time Travel / Witchcraft / Paganism /
What is Halloween? How did it start? Where, why, what for? Witches, cats, mummy dust, haunts… it’s all there in the country from which no one returns. Would you dive into the dark ocean, boys? Would you fly in the dark sky?

This review may be a little out of season, but it was with relatively recent memories of carving jack-o’lanterns and taking my costumed children out to trick-or-treat that I listened to The Colonial Radio Players dramatized adaptation of The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. This neat little tale is ostensibly for children and young adults, but it contains an illuminating look into the origins of Halloween as well as an honest exploration of our own cultural view of death, that greatest of all mysteries.

The Halloween Tree opens with eight young boys gathered together on Halloween night to go trick-or-treating. A ninth boy, Pipkin, is notably absent from the group, and when he finally emerges from his house it’s apparent something is terribly wrong: He’s pale, moving gingerly, and clutching at a lancing pain his side. But the call of Halloween is too strong and he joins his friends. Later we learn that Pipkin is suffering from an acute bout of appendicitis.

The boys decide to go trick-or-treating at a haunted house, and there they encounter the ghostly, skeletal, white-haired Mr. Moundshroud. Moundshroud takes the boys to see The Halloween Tree. En route they have to cross a deep ravine, which proves to be a metaphor for the Valley of Death, and Pipkin fails to reach the other side. When the boys call to him, his pumpkin light goes out and he vanishes from sight.

Moundshroud offers to take the boys on a dreamlike trip back through time in order to save Pipkin. Along the way he reveals the origins of Halloween and its association with death. The boys travel back to ancient Egypt and view that culture’s reverence of the dead, including its great pyramid-tombs, mummies, and the worship of the sun god Osiris, murdered each night by his jealous brother only to rise again the next morning. They are whisked away to pre-Christian Europe and encounter the cowled, scythe-wielding Samhain, the druidic god of death from which Halloween derives its origins.

The boys witness the extinction of the druids and their religion at the hands of the murdering Romans, whose polytheistic approach to religion is itself eradicated by the coming of Christ. “Now the Christians come and cut the Romans down—new altars, boys, new incense, new names,” Moundshroud says. Here I’ll mention that The Halloween Tree includes a subversive view of Christianity, as the boys witness the persecution of innocent witches in the dark ages in the name of Christ.

The boys’ journey continues to 16th century Paris and Notre Dame Cathedral and finally to Mexico for the Day of the Dead celebration. Their strange, dreamlike trip not only reveals the origins of Halloween, but also illuminates our own view of death here in the United States—cemeteries are lonely, cold places, and when someone dies we turn our attention to moving on and forgetting, rather than remembering and honoring our deceased loved ones. When contrasted with Bradbury’s bright description of The Day of the Dead, our cultural reaction to death seems stunted and sad in comparison:

By every grave was a woman kneeling to place gardenias, or azaleas, or marigolds, in a frame upon the stone. By every grave knelt a daughter, who was lighting a new candle, or lighting a candle that had just blown out. By every grave was a quiet boy, with bright brown eyes, and in one hand a small papier-mâché funeral parade, glued to a shingle, and in the other hand a papier-mâché skeleton head, which rattled with rice or nuts inside.

Halloween, this odd, out-of-place holiday that has persisted through the ages, and remains with us now as a night to beg for candy in a costume, is revealed as an ancient ritual denoting the end of the harvest season and the onset of cold winter, of night, and of death. Its origins trace back thousands of years and span multiple cultures. “Four thousand years ago, one hundred years ago, this year, one place or time, but the celebration’s all the same—the Feast of Samhain, the Time of the Dead Ones, All Souls, All Saints, the Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, All Hallows, Halloween,” Bradbury writes.

In the end the boys are presented with a difficult choice to bring Pipkin back from the dead, one that involves a paganistic sacrifice to the dark gods. I won’t spoil the ending. But there’s a great line where one of the boys asks Moundshroud, “Will we ever stop being afraid of the night and death?” Moundshroud (who may be death himself, or the spirit of Halloween) replies reassuringly, “When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever, all the fears will go, and death himself will die.”

I had a few minor quibbles with the presentation of the story. The Colonial Radio Theatre presentation at times relies too heavily on unnecessary sound effects and crashing music that threatened to overwhelm the story, although the voice of Moundshroud, Jerry Robbins, was excellent, as were the production values. The tale also contained a bit more whimsy (a giant kite that whisks the boys back through time, etc.) than I typically like, but Bradbury is such a gifted, poetic writer that it mostly works.

Death may be our greatest mystery, but Bradbury is not afraid to look into its cold, impenetrable depths in search for meaning. The Halloween Tree illuminates the subject with a ghostly pumpkin candle whose light remained with me long after the tale was over, which is one sure mark of a good book.

Posted by Brian Murphy

Review of Dark Shadows: The House of Despair

SFFaudio Audio Drama Review

Horror Audio Drama - Dark Shadows: The House Of DespairDark Shadows: The House Of Despair
By Stuart Manning, Directed by Gary Russell; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – 72 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Big Finish
Published: September 2006
ISBN: 1844352439
Themes: / Horror / Birds / Lost Souls / Witchcraft / Ghosts / Immortality /

After years of wandering the world, Quentin Collins is coming home. But the Collinwood that awaits him is no longer the sanctuary he remembers. As the town of Collinsport hides in fear from otherworldly powers, Quentin vows to unite old friends and reclaim his birthright.

Dark Shadows was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenons. Modern audiences look at it now and don’t get what audiences of the late 1960s saw in it, or why so many of its fans can’t let it go today. Without its Vietnam era frame of reference, the show seems to have little or no appeal. It isn’t scary by today’s standards. It’s not intentionally funny. Buffy it ain’t.

One can’t help but wonder, then, if there’s any point in attempting an original cast resurrection. So many of the mainstays are no longer living, and the show’s biggest star, Jonathan “Barnabas” Frid, is retired at age 82. With four original series stars in the leads, however, Big Finish productions has achieved a nostalgic romp with a modern storytelling style, intelligent and psychological, dripping with atmosphere, which should satisfy fans of the one-of-a-kind soap opera and modern audiophiles both.

David Selby makes a creditable transition from the Sixties anti-hero that was Quentin Collins, recovering lycanthrope, into a strong leading man. He returns to his ancestral home at age 130-something to find it deserted, overtaken by a supernatural presence who just might be the hidden Big Bad from Hitchcock’s The Birds. Enlisting the aid of the witch Angelique, he sets out to re-establish his dynasty as the new Collins family patriarch.

Selby’s eternal tongue in cheek awareness of his character’s failings serves him well. Lara Parker, forty years later, is still enthralling as the beautiful, horrific Angelique. To the writer’s credit, she maintains her darker side, an ally, but still a potential villain. Kathryn Leigh Scott has a voice made for audio drama, and brings dignity to the long-suffering Maggie Evans, who, after all this time, still hasn’t figured out that her friends the Collinses are not quite human. John Karlen returns as servant Willie Loomis, now “Mad Willie.” As always, he brings life and sympathy to a weak and even sleazy role. Newcomer Andrew Collins is well-cast in his part, which shan’t be revealed herein. The original Robert Colbert Dark Shadows score is blended nicely with original music.

During my listening, the background effects balance was sometimes a little off, obscuring the voices. It’s important to remember, though, that it’s nearly impossible to get the balance right for every sound system out there. I listened on a rental-car stereo. As an audio theater producer myself, (who’s also been chastised in a review for effects balance) I’m the first to say that it’s a lot to ask of an editor to create something artful and make it work for the most pedestrian sound system. For an optimal listening experience, grab some headphones. This is the first of four existing titles in a series, with more promised for the future.

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