Review of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

SFFaudio Review

The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman; Read by Neil Gaiman
Audible Download – Approx. 8 Hours[UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Harper Audio
Published: 2008
Themes: / Fantasy / Ghosts / Childhood / Revenge / Parenting / Afterlife / Humor / YA /

In a few words: Not as disturbing as Coraline (which is… a bit) and every ounce as entertaining as I hoped.

Now, details: The Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman’s latest YA novel. The story is about Nobody Owens, a young boy who starts the novel as a toddler that ends up in a graveyard late at night, all by himself. I’ll let Gaiman tell you how that happens, because the journey is all the fun here. Nobody Owens grows up, and Gaiman’s ghosts do all the parenting.

Again, Gaiman manages to be both sinister and funny at the same time, like he’s telling you the worst thing you’ve ever heard, but with a smile and a wink. Here’s the first lines of Chapter 1:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black gold, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you may not even know you had been cut. Not immediately.

You’d think what follows would be a bit grisly, and I suppose it is, but it’s all so fantastic that I smiled through most of that chapter, with the sort of glow I get around Halloween. A pair of ghosts (the Owens’s) raising a live boy, that boy growing up and learning his letters off gravestones and his life’s philosophy from the perspective of dead but well-meaning people; well, it’s just a great idea, and it’s perfectly presented by Gaiman. My kids love it too. This is the kind of book that will be revisited in my house often. In addition, I’d say that if you have a Harry Potter fan on your Christmas list, this book might be just the right fit, and it has the added bonus of introducing him or her to the likes of Neil Gaiman, which in turn could open that fan up to the rest of the world of books as well.

Gaiman also narrates, and like I’ve said elsewhere, he’s one of the few authors I’ve heard that could make a comfortable living as an audiobook narrator. I can’t imagine this audiobook being read by someone else, and I’m very happy that it isn’t.

Edited to add the SFFaudio Essential, which was forgotten by the reviewer. He has been sacked.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiodrama - Something Wicked This Way ComesSomething Wicked This Way Comes
By Ray Bradbury;
Performed by Jerry Robbins and the Colonial Radio Players
2 CDs – 2 Hours [AUDIODRAMA]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9781433210792
Themes: / Horror / Fantasy / YA / Carnival / Americana / Ray Bradbury /

A good title might not have the verbal worth of a picture, but it’s certainly up there. And the title of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes is way up there. Not only is it delightful to say out loud, it also provides an insight into the language and theme of the story.

By evoking Shakespeare, Bradbury’s title announces his nervy aspiration to transform the language of America’s heartland into something approaching poetry. Hearing our rattle-trap vernacular transposed into song-like perfection is among the greatest attractions of this performance. Not that it always works, mind you. Sometimes, the witty exchanges between characters devolve into a series of confusing monosyllables, and sometimes the sheer weight of the mighty words flattens the actors beneath them. But the portentous speech of the lightning rod salesman in the opening scene is as perfect a transfiguration as the symphonic thunderstorm in Beethoven’s “Pastorale”.

But beyond simply the sound of the story, the title references MacBeth’s supernatural temptation, and thus foreshadows the wickedness to come. As MacBeth is undone by the crones’ magic, so are the residents of Greentown, Illinois undone by the magic of “Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show”. But since Bradbury writes not to noble Elizabethans, but to working class Americans, his heroes and victims are not men who would be kings, but aging fathers who wish to be younger and abler for their sons, fatherless young boys who dream of being old enough to be on their own, and solitary schoolteachers who yearn to relive their lives in better company. I think these differences say a lot about who we are as a people. The familiar and familial desires that lead Bradbury’s protagonists into peril seem comfortingly domestic compared to the brutish ambition that drives MacBeth.

Beyond the title, there is magic only Bradbury can conjure, such as the wonder and awe of his mythical boy-heroes. Such beings appear in many of his works, but Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are two of his best. They climb down trellises in the middle of the night to feed on moonlight and shadow, train whistles and silence. They revel as much in books as in footraces, as much in fantasy as in fact. They are breathless and happy, serious and trustworthy. These characters are to real boys as their poetic utterances are to natural language: Graceful distillations of an awkward truth.

And I love the depiction of Will’s father. As with the other elements, the relationship between Will Halloway and his father is a Platonic ideal form of what is so often messy, confused, and rueful in our own lives. How I wish I could be that father—wise and patient, kind and indulgent in all the right ways—to my own son.

One final note on the story: I have always been a little disappointed by the ending. I know, I know, the weapon against evil employed here has its roots in folklore, but it still feels a bit like defeating Godzilla with a wiffle-ball bat. After the scene in the library between Will’s father and Mr. Dark, it is a bit anticlimactic.

But the novel is still a landmark, and this dramatic production is itself very good. Child actors are somewhat hit or miss with me, but the ones who play Will and Jim mostly hit. In the gentler scenes, the actor who plays Will’s father is excellent, although he sounds a little young for the part. If he can’t quite carry the load of some of the scenes of heavier conflict, I think Bradbury’s prose is partly to blame. Such lofty words don’t easily come off with the down-to-earth punch we’ve come to expect.

All in all, this is a very good production of an American classic. It should be played and replayed, savored and shared with the ones you love.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

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 Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

SFFaudio Review

Fantasy Audiobook - Enna Burning Shannon HaleEnna Burning
By Shannon Hale; Read by Cynthia Bishop and the Full Cast Family
8 CDs – 8.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Published: 2007
ISBN: 9781934180198
Themes: / Fantasy / YA / Magic / Fairy Tale /

First, I have to say that I LOVE Full Cast Audio. They always do family-friendly books and they are always unabridged. They do an excellent job.

Enna Burning is the sequel to Goose Girl, Shannon Hale’s novelization of the classic fairy tale (also on audiobook by Full Cast Audio). However, you do not need to read/listen to Goose Girl to enjoy Enna Burning”. Hale does an excellent job of giving just enough background to ensure that the reader knows what is going on.

The story is well paced and full of action. The cast of actors does a great job of keeping the feel of the book and keeping the listener’s attention.

Izzy, the “goose girl”, is now princess and her friend, Enna, has gone home to the forest to take care of her dying mother. Enna’s mother dies before the book starts, but she is still in the forest, taking care of her older brother, Leifer. Leifer finds a long-hidden piece of vellum that teaches him to magically work fire. He struggles to control this power as it slowly consumes him. Finally, he uses his power to save their country of Bayern from the invading country to the South, but the fire destroys him.

Enna’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she, too, reads the vellum, telling herself she won’t ever follow the path her brother chose. But her need to help Izzy and save Bayern from being destroyed soon cause her to take a path not of her choosing.

The story is well paced and entertaining. It is written for the Middle Grade/Young Adult market, but is a great story for all ages. I highly recommend both the book and the audiobook.

Posted by Charlene C. Harmon