Audiobook Review: The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

17 06 2011

The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

Read by Ray Porter

Blackstone Audio

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The third Joe Ledger novel starts with a literal bang and never lets up. The incredibly terrifying plot is handled perfectly by narrator Ray Porter, who totally encompasses the role of DMS agent Joe Ledger.

Grade: A

I think Jonathan Maberry is trying to kill me. OK, maybe not me specifically, but it seems with each book, the terrorist attacks, and general mayhem of Joe Ledger’s world just keeps getting closer to home. In Patient Zero, fundamentalist try to unleash a zombie plague in Philadelphia, the city whose suburbs I’ve lived my entire life in. Now, in King of Plagues mercenaries wreak havoc on a Starbucks a mere 10 minutes from my house. What’s next, genetically engineered monkeys on my front steps, I mean, seriously, can’t we send some grief Cleveland’s way. I’m just saying. The King of Plagues is the third book in the Joe Ledger series, and it starts off with a literal bang. Ledger is pulled out of his self imposed exile to investigate the bombing of The Royal London Hospital. This attack, which leads to nearly 4,000 casualties, is the type of tragedy that a good thriller ends with the good guys preventing. Yet, in The King of Plagues, Maberry starts with the successful tragedy, sending notice right away that this isn’t going to be an easy day in the life of Captain Joe Ledger.

In Joe Ledger, Maberry has created one of the most intriguing modern day heroes in fiction. Ledger isn’t a superman. Sure, when the battle is brought to him, he usually finds a way to wind, no matter what the odds, but despite his victories, he never leaves without scares, physical, and otherwise. What truly has made Ledger, perhaps my favorite thriller character is his utter humanness. Some author’s give lip service to how hard it is to take a human life, and how hard the life of taking down evil-doers is, yet, in Ledger, you feel the karmic scares, and sense his heartbreak with each horrible thing he must do. In the King of Plagues, Ledger is again battling those who would do harm on a global scale. The scenario dreamt up by Maberry is terrifying, using what is best about humankind to aid in evil of a massive scale.  Again, Maberry offers well choreographed action that plays out in your mind in more crisp detail than most action movies, each step is deliberate, with no wasted movement, or unnecessary clutter. I for one was wondering how Mayberry would top his previous two Joe Ledger novels, yet I knew right away that Maberry was bringing his ‘A’ game when you find out that Joe Ledger now has a dog. I mean, all the awesomeness of Patient Zero and The Dragon Factory, plus a kick ass dog. That’s off the chart awesome with all the fixin’s.

You only need to listen to the first 15 minutes, or the last 15 minutes of the audiobook to see how much Ray Porter has encompassed the character of Joe Ledger. Porter’s reading of Ledger is so real, so perfect that it’s almost scary. With each character, Porter not only creates a voice and accent, but a specific cadence and confidence in speech. With each sigh, deep breath and awkward pause you can hear Ledger’s doubts, and feel his pain, yet, with Mr. Church, Porter comes at you rapid fire, as if each second he spends talking heightens the chances of the world coming to an end. Porter adds this level of detail to every character, no matter how large or small. It’s a rare treat to find a narrator so suited for a role. For fans of thrillers with a science fiction bent, you can’t do much better than the team of Maberry and Porter.

Note: A special thanks to the kind people at Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of The King of Plagues. You can purchase this audiobook direct from their site: BlackstoneAudio.com





Audiobook Review: The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

16 06 2011

The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

Read by Hillary Huber

Random House Audio

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Informationist is an intelligent, deliberately paced thriller, introducing a fascinating new character which is brought to life by an excellent performance by narrator Hillary Huber.

Grade: B+

If you haven’t heard, June is Audiobook Month, and part of my goal for this lovely month is to stretch beyond my barriers, listen to some things I normally wouldn’t and to check out new authors and new narrators. So, my latest audiobook listen fits nicely into my goals. The Informationist is the debut novel of author Taylor Stevens and the start of her Vanessa Michael Monroe series. It also works with another goal of mine, to experience more female authors. So far, the majority of the female authors I have listened to have been science fiction, horror or supernatural writers, so recently I was looking for a good thriller, written by a women, and discovered The Informationist. I have always enjoyed thrillers, yet I have also found the genre label to be ill-defined. What constitutes a Thriller, is tons of action needed, or just a tense life threatening situation? Often time a book is called a thriller based solely on the fact that the author has written thrillers before. When it comes to thrillers, I have always been more of a set up guy. Typically our heroes are investigating something, gets into a few squabbles, figures out what is going on, then runs around, outfoxing the bad guy in order to shoot him. I was always down with the figuring out more so then the bullet filled denouement.

The Informationist is exactly the type of thriller I enjoy. While our hero, Vanessa Michael Monroe, is quite physically capable, she tends to think her way out of her problems more so then shoot and punch. Monroe uses her understanding of language and cultural traditions to better effect then some action hero types use their fists. The Informationist is definitely not a run and gun thriller, but a deliberately paced tale of corruption and betrayal, which takes you from the penthouses of Houston, to the dirt roads of Africa. As Monroe searches for the lost step-daughter of an oil magnate, she also is taking a trip through her brutal past. Author Taylor Stevens has developed a fascinating yet tragic hero, highly capable, yet burdened by a justifiable mistrust of others. The plot is highly textured, with each step of the search hampered by both enemies and friends, and placing Monroe in positions that are impossible to think her way out of. This is when the action comes, and when it does, it is swift and brutal. Stevens doesn’t toy with the reader, creating overly elaborate action scenes, instead she has her protagonist move like a viper, striking quick and hard with efficiency. All this leads to a well orchestrated ending, allowing Monroe to do what she does best, outthink her opponents.

Another benefit of The Informationist is the chance to listen to well respected narrator Hillary Huber for the first time. Huber reads The Informationist with breathy slow tone that works like a trap, it lulls you in, makes you feel comfortable then ensnares you into the story. This pacing fit perfectly with the tale, building tension until both narrator and protagonist lash out. Huber truly brings Monroe to life for the listener, giving her the world wary tone you would expect from such a character, yet she also handles the international cast of secondary characters well. There is a plethora of accents in this tale, and Huber gives them all an authentic tone and realistic feel. If you are looking for a thriller full of explosions, gun battles, car chases, and one dimensional characters, perhaps The Informationist isn’t for you. Yet, if you are in search of an intelligent, deliberately paced thriller full of well envisioned characters, I urge you to give The Informationist a try.





Audiobook Review: Go the F—k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

15 06 2011

Go the F—k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

Read by Samuel L. Jackson

Audible, Inc.

Genre: Bedtime Story

Quick Thoughts: A Shocking amount of profanity makes this bedtime story a questionable choice for children.

Grade: B-

Warning: Review may contain mild story spoilers

Often times, when questioned by my therapist, or an ex-girlfriend or two why I am the way I am, I explain simply that my mother never read bedtime stories to me as a child. At least, I don’t remember her doing so. No Goodnight Moon, no Purple Crayons or Pokey puppies. She did not read to me in my bed, she did not read to me with her head. Now, I don’t blame her, I had two younger brothers, one of them a severe bedwetter, who required her bedtime attentions, and, well she was a single mother of four. Plus, Big Bird and Grover taught me to read at a really young age. So, it was with a sort longing brought about by deep psychological trauma that I gave a listen to Go the F–k Asleep by Adam Mansbach from Audible. Now, while the pricing of this tale of a father struggling with doubts of his quality of parenthood while attempting to lull his child to sleep appealed to my frugality, my psyche was further hampered upon discovering the reading of the book was done by Samuel L. Jackson. You see, ever since watching a pre-release showing of Shaft, I wanted Samuel L. Jackson to be my father. I was 26 when that movie came out. Well, enough about me, let’s talk about the book.

On the surface, Go the Fuck to Sleep, is a poetic bedtime story. I was shocked by some of the risks Mansbach took with his poetry, often breaking away from the Iambic pentameter. Some of the rhythms of the tale of all the creatures that were sleeping during the nearly 40 minute long attempt by the anonymous father to encourage his child to join them were hampered by the obvious emotions of the situation. When the father would yell out things like, “F__K your stuffed bear, I ain’t getting you shit” I feel even a child would find the pacing awkward at best. I also had some concerns with the accuracy of the story. I am pretty sure that some of the animals mentioned are nocturnal, and others, like whales, may not operate on the same sleep schedule as humans. Also, some of the wording was poor, allowing us to assume that cubs and lions were huddled together, which is highly unlikely. Maybe better editing would have helped make this book a little more consistent. Despite these problems, I feel the book did a good job capturing the feel of a child’s bedtime story, although the ones I remember reading, by myself, never had as much cursing.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson narrates this tale. I feel he really nailed the asides made by the father like, “I know you’re not thirsty, that’s bullshit. Stop lying.” yet his overall reading of the more mundane childlike poetry about field mice and sparrows lacked the same level of oomph. I would like to see what someone like Christopher Walker or Bob Dylan would have done with the reading. I did enjoy the lullaby tunes that played in the background. I never really got to listen to lullabies as a child, although my dad did often play “I Guess That’s Why They Call it The Blues” by Elton John at nighttime when I was trying to sleep on weekend visits. Maybe the lullabies would have calmed my nightmares, but here, they play perfect counterpoint to the emotional outburst of the father. While I enjoyed the satiric and caustic nature of Go the Fuck to Sleep, I wonder if it would have made a better betimes story if the profanity and abusive nature of the father was toned down. I don’t think I would buy this book, or play the audiobook for my children. Of course, I have no children, but I have 5 nephews and a niece and I would leave it up to their parents to decide whether this was appropriate for them. I probably wouldn’t recommend it though. You know, for kids.





Narrative Undertones: My Interview with Phil Gigante

14 06 2011

Often I am asked who my favorite narrator is, and despite a lot of competition, I always come out with one name, Phil Gigante. Phil has narrated nearly 150 audiobooks in his career, winning Audies in 2009 in the romance category for The Dark Highlander, and in 2011 in the Science Fiction Category for The Stainless Steel Rat. You can find a list of all Phil’s narrations here. Phil graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions.

Bob: Starting off with the basics, how did you get started in audiobooks?

Phil: I had been acting in other mediums, from stage to film, when I met a man named Jim Bond, who was a director of audiobooks. He introduced me to the publisher, I did an audition at their studio, and the rest kind of fell into place. I started slow, maybe three books my first year. Now, fortunately, things have picked up considerably. Actually, I did my first books years ago–a children’s book project for the Lighthouse for the Blind. I did those as a volunteer; I never thought you could make a living that way!

Bob: Your latest work has been narrating The Stainless Steel Rat series. The original novel in the series recently won an Audie Award in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.  Tell me about bringing this classic series to life, and working with Sci-Fi legend Harry Harrison.

Phil: The Rat series has been amazing, wonderful fun. A childhood dream realized for me! When I was a kid, I read the Stainless Steel Rat series and always wanted to play Jim diGriz, the main character, in the movie. Well now, I get to perform ALL of Harry Harrisons’ characters. I actually campaigned for the audio publisher to buy this series–the only book I’ve ever done that for. I just had such a love for the books, I felt it would be beyond joyous to bring them to life. The books are a fantastic combination of pulp sci-fi, intergalactic crime thriller and snappy, hilarious dialogue. And since Jim diGriz, Harry Harrison and myself have all been accused of being a bit "over the top", it was a perfect fit!

   The best part for me was developing a relationship with Harry. Getting to meet a childhood hero and becoming part of the world he created is absolutely priceless. He has been kind, funny, extremely supportive of myself and the audiobooks; everything a literary hero that inspired a 10 year old kid is supposed to be. Having his work recognized by the APA Audie Award is testament to how beloved he and the Rat still are, 50 years down the line. At one point I even autographed a copy of the Rat audio for HIM—which to me is like autographing a basketball for Michael Jordan. Unbelievable!


Bob: One of the things I have really loved about your reading of The Stainless Steel Rat series is how much fun you seem to be having recording it. How do you prepare yourself for voicing such an over the top character like Slippery Jim D’Griz?

Phil: Bourbon and a good cigar….Actually, the hardest part is just deciding how to pronounce some of the extraterrestrial words. Once I have that down, I just let my innate sense of humor and fun play into Harrys’ words, and let ‘er rip! You’re right, Bob, I do absolutely LOVE to record these stories and Harry’s amazing dialogue. I was always amped to get into the studio with a Rat book; I’m glad that shows on the audio.

Bob: Another series that you have worked on is Andrew Vachss Burke series. Vachss brings a sort of Bluesy Noir feeling to his novels that you capture so well. Yet, there is also quite a lot of dark material in these books as well. What steps do you take to ensure you find the right voice for a character?

Phil: Andrew Vachss is a brilliant stylist: he gives lots of straight-up clues about how his characters sound, especially Burkes’ "family" in the series. For Burke himself, since the books are written in first-person narrative, I wanted to give him a voice that reflected not only his hard-fought life of being an abused child, doing hard time, smoking, etc.—but also to echo the tone of the gritty and harsh underbelly of the pre-"Disney-fication" New York where he lives. Andrew’s musical references in the Burke novels add a nice layer of mood to his voice too, depending on if Burke is listening to Delta blues, Chicago blues or Judy Henske. That all plays in my head as I narrate, helps me develop a "soundtrack" to Burkes’ voice. With Vachss–my other mantra is "keep it real"–his characters are anti-heroes. If they do good or noble deeds, it’s usually just a side effect of something that that blossomed from revenge, anger or a good con-job. They don’t care if we like them or not.

Bob: The series that I actually “discovered” you on is Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series. This series combines a lot of humor with some brutal action. It also involves some of the best give and take between the two protagonists that I have ever listened to. Is it hard to perform dialogue between two distinctive voices and have it sound natural? Are there any specific techniques you use to accomplish this?

Phil: I agree with you; the dialogue between Hap and Leonard is absolutely perfect. It is sincere, sharp and so funny I’ve had to stop recording because I was laughing too hard to continue. I think the interplay comes off so well because Joe Lansdales’ writing allowed me to create very detailed pictures of the guys in my head. I lived in the East Texas that Joe writes about; I know these guys. Haps’ voice is mostly me, with a bit of my brother David thrown in for twang. He’s a good ol’ boy with a strong moral compass, a goofy sense of humor, and sometimes does incredibly stupid things out of the best of intentions. Leonard comes from my caustic side, a real smart ass—but one who deep down has strong feelings of love for Hap. It is easier to switch between Hap and Leonard, since Leonard had the deep bass rumble and precision of words, and Hap is so easy going. Joes’ words allow me to put on Hap and Leonard like a second skin at this point. It would be second nature to have a dialogue in real life as either of them now! There are always techniques you use in the studio for different voices–different pitch, speed of delivery, speech patterns, etc. It’s nice when the characters are so well defined you don’t have to consciously think of those things in the studio, as with the Hap and Leonard books.

Bob What kind of books go you enjoy reading when you don’t have to do it out loud for the pleasure of others?

Phil: Funny you should ask! I was just telling someone that as big a book junkie that I am, I have very little time to read for pleasure anymore! For me that translates to "I’ve only got two books open and in mid-read in the house, rather than six!" I grew up reading, and still read, hard science fiction; Clarke, Asimov, Dick, as well as the "pulp" masters like Harry Harrison. I enjoy a good mystery, and fact-based historical fiction as well. I’ve read the classics, and still revisit Conan Doyle and Dickens and Agatha Christie. Odd things, too–Anais Nin for example. I’m also a "true facts" junkie. I’ll read books of facts on anything, and I love behind the scenes books about everything from NASA to Eastern European history to Monty Python! I’m re-reading all my Neil Gaiman books now. That’s another thing about my books–if I like a book, if it means something to me, I’ll read it ten times and enjoy it just as much each time.

Bob: If you decided to write your memoirs, who would you like to be your ultimate ghostwriter, and who would you want to narrate it?

Phil: Ha! Great question! I don’t want to offend any of my author friends…but I think I’d love Douglas Adams or Neil Gaiman–they are great at taking the mundane and surrounding it with weirdness, which pretty much sums up my life! Or, Vachss could write of my misspent youth, Lansdale could be my semi-moral compass…and Karen Marie Moning could do the love scenes! And if I didn’t narrate it myself, I may have to choose Jim Dale, because no matter the material, he would give my life a touch of much needed culture and class.

Bob: Last Question. I have been told that your reading of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever and Higlander series has gained you a lot of female fans. So, for the sake of the ladies, what upcoming projects are you working on, whether they are audiobooks or something else?

Phil: The (mostly) female listeners of my romance titles have been absolutely wonderful to me! They are very passionate, intelligent and have inspired me to really give my all to narrating Romance books; something I never read before in my personal life. I’ve recently done some continuing series in the genre by Diana Palmer (hot, rugged cowboys), Sandra Brown (hot, rugged photojournalists) and Karen Moning (hot  rugged Scotsmen and…paranormal…studs!). I’m chatting with M.J. Rose about some new projects as well. I’ve also recently done some Fantasy titles; the "swords and dragons" kind, not the "sword and hot tub kind"! Terry Brooks’ new "Shannara" title, and Tracy Hickmans’ new "Drakis" book are both amazing. I have some work in other media, as well as some audio titles I’m extremely excited about—but I’m not allowed to reveal those yet. So I guess I’ll just have to tease the lovely ladies a bit longer! The best thing about doing audiobooks is the cross pollination of fans; the romance listeners are now picking up the "Stainless Steel Rat"  and Vachss titles, and the sci-fi and mystery fans are getting Karen Monings’ "Fever" series and giving the Urban Fantasy a go. It is an honor and a joy to be able to bring all the various genres and fans together. Sharing the love and passion for the the books is the best reward for me.

http://www.audiobookstand.com/productsbynarrator.asp?NarratorId=217&recnum=0





Narrative Undertones: My Interview with MacLeod Andrews

13 06 2011

MacLeod

MacLeod Andrews is an accomplished stage actor as well as Audiobook Narrator, with over 35 books to his credit. His reading of the young adult novel, Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan was nominated for a 2011 Audie Award for Best Young Adult Narration, along with co-narrator Nick Podehl. MacLeod was kind enough to take some time out of his schedule and answer some of my questions.

Bob:. It seems more and more stage actors are finding a place as audiobook narrators. What interested you in audiobooks and how did your job as a narrator come about?

MacLeod: Well, first, I think it’s fairly natural that stage actors find employ in audiobook narration.  There’s a kind of physical endurance and vocal facility required of narrators to which actors trained and experienced in the theater are readily accustomed.  That said, there is an intimacy that some theater artists might at first need time to familiarize themselves with.  And there’s a degree of focus and patience that I think some people either have or they don’t, despite whatever training they may have.      

As for how I became involved, it’s that age old story: I knew a girl who knew a girl.  Laura Grafton was kind enough to give me an audition for a children’s/YA title called Crows & Cards by Joseph Helgerson.  After auditioning twice for Brilliance Audio, I booked the job and flew from NYC out to Michigan.  I was terrified in the booth!  I thought, "God, I keep messing up.  I’m going too slowly."  It turned out pretty well though and I’ve been recording ever since.       

2. Tell me a little bit about the process you go through after being cast to record a specific audiobook. How much preparation do you do?

MacLeod: You know, it really varies with the project.  Every title requires a slightly different kind of attention.  But, the common denominator:  I read the book, and along the way I annotate the dialogue.  I’m fairly visual so I allocate different symbols to each character and jot them in the margin.  It allows me a little bit of extra creativity on the side.  Although, every now and then I’ve caught myself getting a little too creative: "no, no, this guy wouldn’t have a flourish at the end of his symbol!"…10 minutes later… Before the advent of the iPad I would make a spreadsheet detailing whatever pertinent information I could find on each character and where they first appear.  Now I’ve started using an application called iAnnotate on my iPad that allows me to carry out basically the same process digitally.  So far, using the iPad has been a great success.  Cuts the paper.  Sorry W.B. Mason.  I set the screen to "negative image" so the print shows white on black background.  Easier on the eyes.

As far as the voices, sometimes the characters are readily accessible to me and I can more or less keep in my head where I’m going to "place" each of them.  I’ve become fairly well acquainted with the elasticity and limitations of my voice.  I’ve pushed those boundaries here and there, to mixed results.  Usually positive I think.

Sometimes I’ll search through audiobook samples to find narrators who have recorded similar genres, and I’ll try on a different rhythm or cadence for narration. 

Sometimes I’ll ask the authors if they heard a particular person’s voice while writing a certain character.  Then I’ll youtube that person. 

Often times accents must be dusted off and I’ll use IDEA (International Dialects of English Archives) which is a fantastic internet resource.

I tried on the whole Jim Dale/ Dan John Miller little MP3 voice recorder thing, and it wasn’t really for me.  Especially because most companies these days can mark certain characters for playback and reference while you’re recording.  I still whip out the old Sony MP3 recorder now and again for extra security. 

One title, Will Grayson/Will Grayson, required the arrangement of original songs.  I sat in my hotel room hunched over my computer at midnight softly recording original show-tune compositions on garageband at 11 at night. 

Sometimes I’ll just figure out certain characters in the booth, with the director.       

Bob: I know a lot of stage actors feed off their audiences during their performances. How do you maintain a similar level of performance when reading in Studio?

MacLeod: 5hr energy.  Coffee.  Coke (The fizzy kind).  Tea.  Sugar.  At least, sometimes that has been necessary.  I find the healthiest way is to eat well and to establish a fun rapport with your director and/or engineer.  Humor really helps.  Gallows Humor.  You’re in it together and you’re not going anywhere until the job is done. 

A big difference between performing for a microphone and performing for an audience is that in the booth, every performance is novel.  Not novel like a book but novel like "new".  The incredible challenge of performing for an audience in theater is trying to maintain a sense that everything is happening to you for the first time.  In the booth you are essentially recording your rehearsal.  That initial interpretation is exciting.  If you don’t like it, you can do it again but you have to move on, there isn’t time to obsess.  There’s just too much material. 

I also challenge myself to experiment with different rhythms or pitches or characterizations.  That helps maintain the focus.  And if all else fails sometimes you resort to very technical challenges like avoiding mouth noises or going on as long of a "run" as possible.  Over the course of a session you’ll go through just about every manifestation of a day’s energy cycle.  From literally falling asleep between sentences, to an intensely motivated focus, to giddy hilarity.  Sometimes you can use those different energy states to your advantage, but for the most part, vocal awareness is key.  Just having an ear for how you sound so that no matter how you’re feeling you can maintain a consistent soundscape.  Having a good director with a keen ear is a godsend.  You’re juggling a lot in that hot little booth and it helps to have an objective ear to keep you moving forward in a way that does justice to the book. 

And then of course, it helps to have a great book.  Or at least one with a lot of character or attitude.   

          

Bob: One of my favorite characters you performed is Michael for Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist, which just won an Edgar award. I think Steve Hamilton created a character there with quite a distinctive voice and you did a great job capturing it. What sort of thing do you look for when deciding on how to voice a character?

MacLeod: Thank you Bob.  The Lock Artist was one of my favorite stories to record.  In general I really enjoy first person narratives.  I’m an actor first and foremost and this format allows me to totally inhabit a character.  It’s a type of performance I’m more familiar with.  It’s like a huge monologue that you don’t have to memorize. 

With first person narratives I look for an attitude, a broader perspective.  A big part of this is finding the humor of the character.  How do they use humor.  Is it Ironic? Wry? Clever? Lame? Dismissive? Sarcastic? Overt? How often do they resort to humor? 

Often I will see/hear a character fairly instinctually.  But there are times when a character is more illusive.  Michael is a character who I feel came to me fairly clearly.  From the beginning I knew there were only two possible voices.  The character is mute, so I could either have given him a withdrawn attitude, as someone who is uncomfortable speaking and relating, or I could have given him the voice he so longed to have, expressive, direct and full.  Audiobooks being an aural medium, the director (Jim Bond) and I decided to go for the latter. 

There was also a duality to the narrative that really evolved as we recorded.  There was the Michael of the present, who spoke to us from a place of experience and reflection.  You may have noticed that the closer the narrative took us to L.A. the deeper and more assertive his tone became.  His humor also crept in – a very cynical, world-weary quality.  With character’s like Michael who have experienced so much pain and trauma, the humor is critical.  Humor is a ubiquitous coping device and how a character finds it in relation to suffering is quite telling.  Then, when Michael was younger and in Michigan, I tried to lighten his tone, allow him to be a bit more naive and earnest.  Michael didn’t have the perspective to understand what was happening to him or to assign value, so he was very much an innocent in the earlier timeline.  But never passive, and never ruled by self-pity. 

Aside from first person narrative and regarding character voices more generally, I listen to the author.  I take into account descriptions, age, attitudes, and that voice in relation to the other characters.  Sometimes what motivates my choices is as simple as trying to differentiate the dialogue.

Bob: In Robert Buettner’s  science fiction novel Overkill you gave voice to Jazen Parker, a complex character who hadn’t had the easiest life. Yet, some of the more memorable moments in that novel involved you voicing a decidedly not human character. Are you a science fiction fan, and is there anything specific you use for inspiration when attempting to voice non-human characters?

MacLeod: I am a Sci-Fi fan.  Not a connoisseur by any stretch, but I am frequently moved by how the genre can lay bare the human condition.  By taking us so far away from ourselves and the world we know, the impact is that much more powerful when we suddenly recognize the emotional and political dynamics at play in a universe that we thought was utterly alien.  I find Sci-Fi to be quite an amenable format to large, existential quandaries.  Yukikaze is one such book that I really enjoyed and was going to record until the audio rights were retracted at the last minute. 

When I have to voice something inhuman I first look to the author.  How have they described the being?  The Grezzen from Mr. Buettner’s book, Overkill, is a behemoth of fairly evolved intellect.  I went sort of in the direction of James Earl Jones.  As he communicated telepathically, I tried to oscillate quickly between being on mic and off mic.  Just to give it a less directional ambiance. 

One of my vices is that I "go for it".  I enjoy the challenge.  I’d be all for it if publishers allowed voice effects to be tossed on those characters (I like that level of immersion) but most companies are still purists and won’t touch it with post effects.  So I do my best to create effects organically in the booth.  Sometimes it works better than others.  Sometimes people love those bigger choices, and sometimes people can’t stand them.  In a Sci-Fi I recorded called Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the aliens were described as appearing similar to baby elephants and sounding like leaking balloons when they spoke.  So I went for it.  I tucked my lower lip up over my bottom teeth and did my best.  Some people dug it, and a LOT of listeners reamed me for it.  I’ve taken that into consideration in projects since, but that fuller commitment is kind of my style, I enjoy the challenge.    

     

Bob: It seems that YA novels are really becoming the “it” thing in publishing. I noticed you have narrated quite a few Young Adult titles. Do you take a different approach to reading a novel you know will be listened to by teenagers as opposed to a novel like Sandman Slim, which is decidedly not for the young ones? On a related note, what was it like voicing Lucifer?

MacLeod: No, I don’t really approach them differently.  The books usually guide you in the direction they want to be taken.  And man, some of these YA books are far more risqué than any of the adult stuff.  But surprisingly that challenging material tends to be less gratuitous in YA, unless it’s for the sake of humor.  I’m surprised by the maturity with which that uncomfortable content is handled, often leading to some emotionally relevant and well observed moments.    

YA titles tend to lead me in subtler directions.  They are decidedly humanistic and almost always incredibly well humored.  As they are aimed at a demographic generally more concerned with identity, ethics and morality, YA titles tend to approach character and behavior with a bit more nuance, which can require very delicate and specific handling on the part of the narrator.  The Spectacular Now, Flash Burnout, Will Grayson, Will Grayson– though at times a little fluffy (except The Spectacular Now) really land upon some poignant observations that even as an adult cause me to reflect introspectively.  Most of the adult and genre lit I’ve read tends to veer closer to archetypes.  

As for Lucifer, he ended up being an unexpectedly difficult character.  In Sandman Slim he appeared briefly toward the end and I envisioned him as a cool-cat, kind of a Jeffrey Wright.  In Kill the Dead he featured much more prominently.  The director here urged me more toward erudition and a posh disillusionment.  Effete and eternally unimpressed.  I was hesitant because I was concerned about consistency, but upon examining the language with the director I came to completely agree with his impression.  Unfortunately it took me half the book to fully shake my previous conception of Lucifer and fully commit to this more refined characterization.        

Bob: If someone wrote a book about your life, who would you want to narrate it?

MacLeod: Interesting question, one I doubt I’ll ever have to worry about.  I think I’d want it to be some talented young actor being given a chance to make some much needed dough, who had a great appreciation for storytelling and a heretofore unrealized ability for narration, who wanted to cut his teeth in the voice over world.  That or Leonard Nimoy. 

Bob:  Finally, do you have any upcoming projects, audiobooks or otherwise, that you are particularly excited about?

MacLeod: Yes.  There’s a YA/children’s title called Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to NOT Reading.  It’s quite clever and fun.  I’m excited for the sequel to Overkill called Undercurrents.  There’s a really off-beat sci-fi title called Grey by Jon Armstrong that’s a bizarre satire of today’s flash-pop-reality media culture and the fashion industry.  I thought it would be out by now…hopefully someone wasn’t dissatisfied with my read and pulled the plug.  Reflex, the sequel to Jumper (yes, the one the bad Hayden Christensen movie was based on) by Stephen Gould is one of the more tightly crafted thrillers I’ve gotten to read.  And with that teleportation-sci-fi twist.  By the way, the book Jumper is far, FAR better than the flick.  Then I’m looking forward as always to the next Sandman Slim Novel, Aloha from Hell.  Sandman Slim series…gotta love it. 

For more information and news about MacLeod check out his  Site at http://macleodandrews.blogspot.com/





Audiobook Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

12 06 2011

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Read by Mike Chamberlain

Random House Audio

Genre: Robot Apocalypose

Quick Thoughts: While a fast, fun listen, I was unable to truly connect with the characters or situation on any significant level, partly due to Mike Chamberlains disjointed narration.

Grade: B-

The Apocalyptic novel has seen lots of progressions. Pre-WW2, the majority of the “end of the world” scenarios were out of the hands of man, there were plagues, like Shelley’s Last Man and and Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, and there were astronomical catastrophes like Well’s In the Days of the Comet and Wyle’s When Worlds Collide. Even outside forces bring about the end such as HG Well’s alien menace in War of the Worlds, and the bizarre North Pole thingamajig that killed off the planet in MR Shiel’s The Purple Clouds. Yet, as we enter the nuclear age, more and more often it’s man’s creations or neglect that end up killing us, the plagues are man-made, the ecological disasters brought on by Global Warming, and the robots begin to rise. As technology increases and the world grows smaller, it seems more and more likely that we are all going to die by our own creations. Well, until we do, we can at least get some good books and movies out of the deal. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson is the latest apocalyptic tale where man’s creations, here being artificial intelligence and robotics, become our greatest enemies. It is told in a series of first person and third person accounts of heroic survivors of Zero Hour, the day of the initial coordinated robot attack, who work to find a way to defeat an Artificial Intelligence called Arcos who is bent on the systematic slaughter of the majority of mankind.

The story of Robopocalypse centers on one man, Cormack Wallace, as he relates important stories of key figures in the battle to stop the robots. Because of this style of storytelling the narrative jumps around a lot, telling key stories about key moments, without a lot of set up and staging. In this way, the book is reminiscent of Max Brook’s World War Z. The major difference is that Wilson’s tale follows a select group of reoccurring characters as pivotal players in the war. While the action is crisp, and the increasing evolution of the machines is fascinating, do not expect a detailed character drama. The characters exist solely for what they can contribute to the fight, and when there contribution is complete they disappear with a solemn statement that they were never heard from again. The story progression is fast, and every scene in the book is significant, yet it was hard to become emotionally attached to the situation and characters. Even the motivations of the AI were hard to understand. Science fiction and Apocalyptic fans will embrace this novel and have fun with it, I know I did. I just have trouble seeing Robopocalypse having the crossover appeal of World War Z, or other breakout science fiction hits.

I think some of my lack of connection with the story may have come from the lackluster performance of the narrator, Mike Chamberlain. Chamberlain has an excellent narrative voice, it’s strong and clear, yet, just reading a tale like this is not enough. A good audiobook narrator makes many choices during a reading, and I question many of the ones made by Chamberlain. His reading of the first person account of a congresswoman trying to save her children came off quite disjointed and confusing when the narrator created a female voice for her dialogue but continued with his male narrative voice reading the other parts of the account. At other points in the book he maintains the chosen voice of a character thought the entire first person account. Another example of his discontinuity was when he gave sort of a cockney accent to a British hacker, yet read the tale of the Japanese robotic mechanic as Middle American, with no real attempts at creating a Japanese character voice. Even the childlike voice of the AI, which should have come off creepy, instead just sounded bratty. Perhaps, this novel would have been greatly improved by an additional narrator who could fill out Chamberlain’s weaknesses. Sadly, Chamberlain’s disjointed performance and bad narrative choices made what could have been an excellent audiobook listening experience into merely a fun, but forgettable listen.





Audiobook Week, Day 4: Audiobooks for the Uninitiated

9 06 2011

Today’s discussion post for Devourer of Books is Audiobooks for the Uninitiated. I could spend a lot of time talking about the wonders of audiobooks, or argue that listening to an Audiobook is in fact just as valid a form of entertainment and self improvement as reading, but what’s the fun in that. Today I am going to talk about something that helped me transition from reading to listening. It’s really not a huge revelation, but something that is quite simple, and that is series.

When I first started listening I used audiobooks to either fill out series that I had read a few titles in, or I started listening to a series I had been interested in previously, but never read. I found it to be a good way to strengthen my listening skills. Here we have characters I can grow to know, follow their paths book to book, and become invested in their lives. Having this hook, allowed me to eventually move onto longer or more complicated listens, knowing that I have developed the skills of a good audiobook listener. 

So, below, you will find a list of series that I have enjoyed in whole or in part. You can use this list as a resource or find a series of your own.

Thrillers:

The Jack Reacher Series by Lee Child

Jack Reacher is an ex-Military Policeman, and current nomad, traveling the United States and getting involved in adventures. By the end of a Reacher novel, you know he will have killed or seriously hurt most of the bad guys and won the woman. Dick Hill narrates the series and really is the voice of Reacher.

First Novel of Series: The Killing Floor

The Harry Bosch Series by Michael Connelly

The Harry Bosch series is probably my favorite Police Procedural out there. Harry is a gruff but fascinating character. The series has had multiple narrators. The early novels are narrated by Disk Hill, while the majority of the latter are read by Len Cariou. I prefer Dick Hill,

The First Novel of the Harry Bosch series is The Black Echo.

The Hap and Leonard Series Joe R. Lansdale

One of my favorite series, equal parts brutality with humor. East Texas whiteboy Hap teams up with Leonard a gay, black vet. One of the best friendships in thrillers today. These novels are brilliantly read by Phil Gigante.

The First Novel of the Hap and Leonard Series is Savage Season.

The Myron Bolitar Series by Harlan Coben

If you have yet to experience Myron and Winn, run, don’t lightly jog, to the Library. One of the most fun series out there with a crazy cast of characters. Yet, Myron is the heart of the series. Myron is a sports agent who, of course, gets involved in adventures. Fan favorite Jonathan Marosz narrates the majority of the titles, until his retirement, when after one attempt by the author to narrate the book, Stephen Weber took over the duties.

The First Novel of the Myron Bolitar Series is Deal Breaker

Fantasy

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

My favorite Urban Fantasy series center’s around Chicago’s only Wizard for Hire Harry Dresden. This series is narrated by James Marsters. Yes, that would be Spike from Buffy. I hear the ladies find him dreamy.

The First Novel of the Dresden Files is Storm Front

The Emberverse Series by S. M. Stirling

What would happen if everything using electronic or chemical reactions just no longer worked. That is the basis of Stirling’s Post Apocalyptic Emberverse series. Todd McLaren Handles the narration.

The First Novel of the Emberverse Series is Dies the Fire.

Science Fiction:

The Honor Harrington Series by David Weber

One of my favorite Space Opera’s follows the career of a Female Officer in the Manticore Royal Navy. This space adventure is full of battles, politics, betrayals and treecats. Allyson Johnson is the narrator.

The First Novel of the Series is On Basilisk Station.

The Destroyermen Series by Taylor Anderson

Follow the adventures of the crew of the USS Walker, a steam powered WWII naval ship that is sucked into an alternate version of earth, and become entangled in an all out war against the Grik. This series is narrated by William Dufris.

The First Novel of the Series is Into the Storm.

Also, if you are game, check out Literate Housewife’s new Audiobook Challenge Shaken, Not Stirred, if following the James Bond series sounds like your cup of tea.

These are just a drop in the bucket of available series. Audiobook veterans who stop by, What are some of your favorite series that you would recommend to a newly converted Audiobook listener?