Review of Very Bad Deaths by Spider Robinson

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Very Bad Deaths by Spider RobinsonVery Bad Deaths
By Spider Robinson; Read by Spider Robinson
10 CDs – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 0786182431
Themes: / Science Fiction / Serial Killer / Psychic /

Many listeners don’t like it when the author narrates his own story. I’ve never understood this, especially when it comes to science fiction, which has a long history of this. Early Caedmon titles featured Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov reading their own works. Live readings are common events at science fiction conventions. And I find that I usually like author-read audiobooks. The author lends an extra dimension to the reading that a third-party narrator simply can’t provide.

Every now and then you run across an author/narrator who is good enough at narrating that you’d like to see him narrate some other author’s books too. Harlan Ellison is that good, for example. And so is Spider Robinson. He reads in such a comfortable, personable way that it’s easy to imagine that this guy you know popped in for lunch and is telling you this story over the kitchen table. I enjoyed his reading so much that I wondered first how good his Callahan Chronicals would be read by him (not that Barrett Whitener did a bad job – he didn’t), and further, how Spider would be narrating another author’s work, like, say, a Heinlein novel. The answer? He’d be pretty damn good. I found myself eager to return to this audiobook every time I was forced to put it down.

Along with Russell, who is the loosely autobiographical main character, the story involves a serial killer with a fetish for inflicting pain, a psychic roommate who is appropriately named “Smelly”, and a female cop who is not a lesbian. The story flits from the past, where Russell first met Smelly, to the present, where Smelly seeks him out to tell him that he read the mind of the serial killer as he flew over his house in an airplane and they better by God do something about him.

The story is mainly about these characters going after the serial killer, having many conversations about whether they should go after him. Robinson keeps it interesting throughout, but doesn’t hesitate to move off the plot for some tangential opinion dumps, or some science fiction references, or some puns. The story moves, and is personal, enjoyable, often funny, and touching. And the bad guy is flinchingly bad. Enjoy this one.

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

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One thought to “Review of Very Bad Deaths by Spider Robinson”

  1. I finally got a chance to listen to this one! I had a smile tatooed on my face while I listend to Spider spin his SF web. I knew I would be interested to hear this one especially because it is set in and around Vancouver, British Columbia, where I live and it is chock full of local details. But after hearing it, and realizing that most people who don’t live in BC probably couldn’t care less about the setting what I really wanted to talk about is something a lot of listeners/readers might have missed that they should care about. Spider Robinson wrote this novel as an homage to Crime Writers Of America Grandmaster Lawrence Block. Most SF readers probably don’t know who Block is but they should. Block is a prolific and talented author working in the crime genre. In VBD Robinson uses many turns of phrase that are ones Block uses almost unconciously in his many stories. Other giveaways include the theme of a horrificly understandable serial killer and a deep and abiding love of coffee. Robinson has done this sort of thing before – his novel Callahan’s Con was an homage to Block’s contemporary – fellow Crime Writers Of America Grandmaster Donald Westlake and Callahan’s Key was inspired by the writings of Robert A. Heinlein. Another neat feature of Very Bad Deaths is that it contains the only reference in fiction to the philosophical writings of Daniel Dennett that I know of – he also manages to tie Dennett’s concepts into the book’s plot.

    Spider is currently “collaborating” with Heinlein on a novel titled Variable Star, I hope Blackstone aquires the audio rights to that one and that they get Spider to Narrate! Oh and a sequel to Very Bad Deaths is also in the works.

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