My Top 10 Post Apocalyptic Audiobooks of 2013 (Non-Zombie)

21 02 2014

2013 was another great year for post apocalyptic novels. Where 2013 truly stood out was the diversity of it’s offerings. From straight forward apocalyptic tales, to absurdist comedies, last years apocalyptic audiobooks showed just how much ground there is to cover in the genre. It was tough for me to pick just 10 Apocalyptic audiobooks, partially with the glut of continuing series putting out even better entries this year. Yet, after much contemplation and hair pulling, I came up with my list. So, if you are like me, and one of your favorite, most relaxing activities is to listen to the world go up in flames, here is my list of the best 2013 had to offer.

Expect my Zombie based Top 10 to appear soon.

Yesterday’s Gone by Sean Platt and David Wright

Read by RC BRay, Chris Patton, Brian Holsopple, Ray Chase, Maxwell Glick, and Tamara Marston

Podium Publishing

Yesterday’s Gone truly borders on the goofy at times, and I think in some ways this was the authors’ intention. Maybe not goofy per se, but the twists are so over the top, the plot so derivative of the classics and the characters so bizarre that you can’t help but shake your head at it. Yet, somehow it all works brilliantly. Yesterday’s Gone is a post apocalyptic fan’s somewhat inappropriate, at times shamefully wonderful dream. Yet, what truly sets this one apart is the brilliant production and wonderful narration. Ray Chase gives one of my favorite performances of the year, and add that to the excellent work the other narrators included notable performances by RC Bray and Chris Patton, and Yesterday’s Gone can crown itself my favorite Post Apocalyptic Audiobook of 2013. And, lucky for us, this is just Season One.

Countdown City (The Last Detective, Bk. 2)

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Countdown City picks up were The Last Detective leaves off, bettering the series by leaps and bounds. Book 2 offers a unique apocalypse of anticipation, where the wait for the world killer asteroid is an apocalyptic event all it’s own. Winter’s fascinating world is brought to life expertly by Peter Berkrot. Berkrot’s performance still sticks with me months after I finished listening to it.

Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

Read by Kirby Heybourne

Tantor Audio

Arguably, Odds Against Tomorrow is more of a disaster tale than a typical Post Apocalyptic novel, but really, there is nothing typical about this one. Apocalypose fans looking for something utterly unique should check out this tale of a brilliant disaster analyst who finds himself immersed in the “perfect storm” that he predicted. Equally moving and hilarious this tale is brought to life wonderfully by Kirby Heybourne who manages just the right tone for this tricky tale.


Breakers by Edward W. Robinson

Read by Ray Chase

Podium Publishing

Breakers is The Stand meets Lucifer’s Hammer with weird crab creatures. Podium Publishing is quickly making a name for itself with unique audiobook offerings excellently produced and Breaker’s is no exception. Ray Chase masterly guides us through this strange new world helping create one of the freshest looks at alien invasion since Gerrold’s Chtorr series.

Ashes by Brett Battles (Project Eden, Bk. 4)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible, Inc.

I have always been one of those people who get a bit annoyed when the good guys stop the global  conspiracy top release a world killing pathogen. Luckily, in The Project Eden series, the competent good guys are facing impossible odds, and well, aren’t able to do the impossible. This series starts with a straight forward pathogen thriller and progresses to a The Stand-like pandemic tale, and I loved every second of it. Plus, MacLeod Andrew’s. The man can bring it.

There was a fifth book in this series, released in 2013 as well, but I have yet to read it. Once I free me up an Audible credit, I plan to jump right back into this dangerous world.

The City of Devi by Manil Suril

Read by Vikas Adams and Priya Ayyar

Blackstone Audio

So, who doesn’t like absurdist comedy, heartbreaking romantic entanglements, strange embodiments of deities, Bollywood musicals, and gonzo sex in their Mumbai based apocalyptic tales? The City of Devis is a wonderful, and at times awkward tale, beautifully narrated by Vikas Adams and Priya Ayyar.

Fuse by Julianna Baggot (Pure, Bk. 2)

Read by Khristine Hvam, Casey Holloway, Kevin T. Collins, Pierce Cravens

Hachette Audio

This may have been the year for Book 2’s in Post apocalyptic trilogies, and Fuse is proof that often the followup can better something already pretty darn good. Baggot’s world is darkly beautiful and her characters wonderfully tragic. Plus, the performances, particularly that of Kevin T. Collin’s made me feel things. Like emotional things. I’d rather not talk about it.

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy

Read by Brandon Espinoza and Phoebe Strole

Penguin Audio

More Alien Invasions? Yes Please. Despite one annoying plot twist that I may have over emphasized in my review, Phillip Yancey’s YA novel is a heck of a good tale. His alien’s are different, and the plot well constructed. The performances by two new to me narrators also enhance this already quality tale.

Black Feathers by Joseph D’Lacey

Read by Simon Vance

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

While I tend to like my Post Apocalyptic tales more scifi, there is definitely a place in the genre for a good Fantasy, one that Joseph D’Lacey provides for us in Black Feathers. With shades of The Dark Tower, D’Lacey balances dual timelines with ease to create a fascinating apocalyptic world where everything you believe gets twisted in wonderful ways. And truly, if you are going to go the Fantasy route, you might as well call on one of the best voices for Fantasy, Simon Vance, whose voice gives the context almost instant creditability.

Fragments by Dan Wells (Partials, Bk. 2)

Read by Julian Whelan

Harper Audio

One of the reasons I think I enjoy book 2’s in apocalyptic series, is because they often involve getting away from the static setting of book one and embarking on everyone’s favorite jaunt, the apocalyptic road trip. In Fragment’s Dan Well’s offer’s one of the best, a cross country trip through a devastated wasteland that used to be America. Julian Whelan continues to infuse the tale with heart and personality, the perfect voice to bring the tale’s wonderful protagonist to life.

Audiobook Review: Sick by Brett Battles

17 04 2013

Sick by Brett Battles (Project Eden, Book 1)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Audible, Inc.

Length: 9 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Plague Thriller

Quick Thoughts: I was in search of a fun filled, explody, chasy , blood pressure escalating listen and Sick totally hit that spot. It combines elements of Apocalyptic Plague tales, like The Stand, with the fast paced thinking man’s action similar to the Jack Reacher series. Narrator MacLeod Andrews narrate this tale with Faster Than Light pacing which I’m sure may be a violation of the laws of physics, but made it one hell of a ride for this listener.

Grade: B+

I understand the life of a character in a thriller novel can be tough. You usually have some background story that makes you wary of things to begin with, whether it be time in the military or law enforcement, or personal tragedy, you rarely come into the start of your time as a book character full of naive innocence. To make matters worse, you find yourself at the start of a Thriller novel, which means death and mayhem is coming your way. You wake up to find a fast acting plague has struck the newly established military base you are working at. As you try to save your family, you are swept up by a team in hazmat suits and taken to a secret base, where you are informed by a shady doctor that your family has all dies. You are told that it’s your duty to cooperate, but they refuse to give you any more information, or to see the bodies of your children. You are kept locked in a room with no contact from the outside world until a secret cryptic message is sent to you through your meal. Then you are rescued by another secret group, transported through across the country by intricate means being chased by shadowy types in black helicopters, until you arrive at a out of the way ranch full of secretive types with lots of high tech equipment. All of this is confusing but you’ve managed to keep it together, with an open mind, despite reeling from the loss of your family. When you finally get a chance for some answers, you find that the people who rescued you believe that this is all so sort of conspiracy? I know, what the hell? A conspiracy?!?! Haven’t these people ever hear of Occam’s Razor, where the simplest explanations of you being exposed to a deadly quick acting plague and kidnapped by a shadowy group are the simplest. Like terrorists or accidentally spill. It’s obvious the secret shadowy types and black helicopters are probably FEMA or something.  I mean, a global conspiracy, yeah right. Next they will try to tell you that NASA faked the moon landing. Conspiracy! What a bunch of highly funded, well trained and seemingly reasonable whackjobs.

Sick is the first novel in Brett Battle’s Project Eden series, about an everyday military man, Daniel Ash, who finds himself mixed up in a global conspiracy by a shadowy group.  Recently, I have been listening to a lot of high concept speculative fiction novels, and I was in search of a fun filled, explody, chasy , blood pressure escalating thriller listen for a bit of a change of pace and Sick totally hit that spot. Sick is a fun fast thriller that combines elements of Apocalyptic Plague tales, like The Stand, with the fast paced thinking man’s action similar to the Jack Reacher series. Battles starts this novel with a brutal punch, when Daniel Ash wakes up to find his wife dead, and his daughter deathly ill from a mysterious plague which infects his entire town, leaving only him and his son free of symptoms. After being held after his exposure, he is rescued by a group, who informs him that in fact, his children are still alive. Now, Ash has one goal, save his children. From the very beginning, Battles had me enthralled in his tale, and lever let me go. I really liked the Daniel Ash character, and found his story quite compelling but he also is a bit wooden throughout the novel, which makes some sense due to his shock. Along the way, he meets a variety of other characters, members of a group who are fighting a secret war against a powerful enemy. Most of these characters are colorful, on a surface level way, and hopefully will get further developed as the series continues. Daniel Ash eventually teams up with a mysterious and broken woman, Chloe, who was a victim of the Project Eden group. I found Chloe a little better developed as a character, with Battles allowing us to see true progress in her character. Yet, the fact that Ash‘s mission drove the plot, I though the true fun of this tale was the story of those dealing with the outbreak of the plague. As the plague begins to lose containment, Battles follows the stories of a reporter covering the strange nature of the plague, and two boys as they try to find their way out of the Quarantine zone. I though this aspect of the novel made a nice counterbalance to the almost wooden determination of Ash’s quest. Here the characters come alive, and the real human drama of the novel takes place. Sick was lot of fun. It’s a mix of straight forward action with apocalyptic plague drama made this a truly engrossing listen.

Macleod Andrews narrates Sick, and was one of the key reasons I decided to listen to this audiobook.  I have always enjoyed his gravely delivery that gives each novel he reads a truly unique feel. Andrews again does excellent work here. He gives each character a distinct voice that actually helped develop their story. I felt his work on Chloe was key, allowing her to move from a closed off, paranoid victim, to something more by the end of the novel. I love the work he did in the outbreak zone, handling both the female reporter and the younger characters with authenticity. Every so often, when listening to an audiobook, I find myself in this strange time distorting zone where the book feels like it’s moving faster than actual time, and every time  I look down, it seems we are closer to the end then we should be. I felt this way listening to Sick. Andrews pacing moved the novel along Faster Than Light, which I’m sure may be a violation of the laws of physics, but made it one hell of a ride for this listener. I am very much looking forward to the next entry in this series, fascinated to see where Battles will take this story next.

Audiobook Review: Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney

8 01 2013

Gutshot Straight by Lou Berney

Read by Edoardo Ballerini

Audible, Inc.

Length: 9 Hrs 10 Min

Genre: Crime Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Gutshot Straight is cleverly plotter crime caper that never takes itself too seriously. Lou Berney’s debut offers plenty of tense moments, quirky characters and whole lot of laughs. Fans of Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard and Tim Dorsey should now add Lou Berney to their must read lists.

Grade: B+

Note: This week I will be featuring books that I choose to listen to based on reviews and “Best of 2012…” posts by my fellow bloggers which I will be linking at the end of this post.

Years ago, as a teenager I developed the rule of happy endings. I was rereading one of my favorite novels at the time, Dean Koontz’s The Servants of the Twilight, a novel full of chase scenes and mayhem, and I couldn’t help but wonder about all the unintended consequences. You see, for a novel or movie to have a happy ending, all the good looking people must survive. No matter what havoc they wreak on us average to just a tad homely people out there, as long as they make it to the end in one piece, we the audience can head home happy thinking that all is right with the world. Yet, I cannot help but think about that poor guy, coming out from MacDonald’s to find that his car has been stolen. Maybe he would be happy to learn that his car was stolen by some good looking people who were trying to evade a murderous cult, but just maybe he ends up late to work, gets fired, than can’t afford to send his kid to college. Maybe that young girl whose car collides with the cop car our modelesque protagonists are racing away from will suffer a traumatic brain injury, never going on to have a career or raise a family. While we cheer our mysterious raven haired beauty who can now break open a conspiracy by a shadowy government agency, the unintended consequences of her high speed chases and crazy shoot outs may harm society more than if the conspiracy was allowed to linger. I for one, have always wished there was a book of the stories of these unintended consequences, the guy who breaks his leg diving out of the way of chasing baddies, the young store clerk traumatized by the staged robbery our good guy performs to bide time, and all us poor tax payers who most pay the bill for the charming hero’s explody heroics.

Charles "Shake" Bouchon really should have known better. Finally released from prison after a three year stint, Shake is offered a simple job by a beautiful crime boss who just happened to be his ex-lover. Yet, the simple job gets more complex when the car he is given to deliver to a shady figure in Vegas just happens to have a beautiful women tied up in the trunk. Not willing to turn the women over to her death, Shake is now hunted by a variety of shadowy characters while attempting a big score than may just land him that restaurant he always wanted. Gutshot Straight is a clever and fast paced crime caper reminiscent of early Carl Hiaasen. Berney has a winner of a character in the likeable but oh, so maddening Shake. Shake is flawed and often over his head, yet has a surprising reserve of clever problem solving and an ability to act when acting is what needs to be done. There were times that I wanted to slap Shake, thinking he was naive, but as I began to understand the character, I realized it really wasn’t naiveté, just an acceptance and connection to his emotional flaws.  Berney rounds out his cast with a bunch of quirky characters that are odd and endearing in their way but never over the top. Gutshot Straight is full of humor, much of it coming from the ridiculousness of the caper itself, yet, Berney never goes for the easy joke or simplistic gag, instead permeates the text with  light hearted almost whimsical feel that balances out the violence and mayhem of the story. Yet, my favorite part of story is Berney’s ability to tie in not just the major storylines, but small offshoots of the unintended consequences of the tale. Often, Berney will take you down an unexpected road, yet find a way to veer it right back into the oncoming traffic of the plot. This gives the story a lot of heart, reminding me, in a strange way, of some of the better written Seinfeld episodes, where something you sort of write off ends up tying the story together. Gutshot Straight is cleverly plotter crime caper that never takes itself too seriously. Lou Berney’s debut offers plenty of tense moments, quirky characters and whole lot of laughs. Fans of Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard and Tim Dorsey should now add Lou Berney to their must read lists.

Edoardo Ballerini captures the whimsical tone of Berney’s writing perfectly as he brings Shake and a cast full of scum bags, strippers, soft spoken muscle and out of their league everymen to life. This is my second Edoardo Ballerini narration yet, even with that small sample, I can easily say he is one of the few "complete package" narrators who I would be comfortable listening to read almost anything. He has an almost low key voice, that initially you feel he will be taking the minimalist approach, with only slight tonal changes, but as more and more characters get thrown into the mix, Ballerini gives them their own well thought out voices making them each memorable. Ballerini reads with a light hearted brisk pace, always moving the story ahead, yet also delivering the complicated ending with an almost visually cinematic feel. The listener never gets muddled down in the action, but is given a bird’s eye view of everything going on. Ballerini is a narrator that I definitely will continue to keep my eye out for, knowing that whatever he reads, he will be an excellent guide.

What Other Have Said:

Jen Forbus, my go to femme fatale of crime fiction, introduced me to Lou Berney in her Favorite Reads of 2012 Post. Check out her review of Gutshot Straight.

Audiobook Review: Hollowland by Amanda Hocking

10 05 2012

Hollowland by Amanda Hocking (The Hollows, Bk. 1)

Read by Eileen Stevens

Audible, Inc.

Length: 7 Hrs 36 Min

Genre: Young Adult Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Hollowland is a great introductory novel for those who are looking to stick their toes into the Zombie subgenre. It’s an exciting apocalyptic road trip, with Zombie action that is bloodcurdling and intense but not overly gory. Long time obsessive Zombie enthusiast will find its themes and scenarios familiar, and not wholly original, but if they are looking for a comfortable, surface level Young Adult Zombie road novel, Hollowland is worth the trip.

Grade: B

One of the problems spending an entire month celebrating zombie fiction on your blog for Zombie Awareness Month is that along with that, you will be spending an entire month listening and reading almost entirely zombie fiction. Now, I’m not complaining. The reason I am doing this is because I love zombie tales, yet, typically they are spread out within my reading lists. In an average month I listen to around 15 audiobooks and read two to three print novels and a few novellas. Just in audiobooks alone, over the span of this event, I will probably be listening to somewhere between 120-150 hours of cannibalistic undead, crafty survivalists, crazy apocalyptic cults, and intestine rending, brain eating action. So in order keep from viewing my next zombie read or listen as work, I have been looking for a bit of variety in my zombie choices. So, along with the Zombie Road trips, and Zombie proof bunkers, I’m looking for Zombie perspective tales, comedic zombie novels, and even romantic zombie novels. One of the sub-categories of Zombie literature I wanted to focus a bit more on was Young Adult zombie novels. In the past, I have listened to Jonathon Maberry’s Rot & Ruin and Ilsa J Bick’s Ashes, but haven’t explored much beyond that in the Young Adult Undead world. After doing some research, and asking for some suggestions, I found a few YA zombie titles for Zombie Awareness Month. I think taking on the Zombie Apocalypse from a teenage perspective is actually quite apt, because, like everyone else, Zombies prefer their meat fresh.

Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland is the first novel in her Zombie Apocalypse series featuring a young teenage protagonist named Remy White. Narrowly escaping from a government quarantine compound which was overrun by zombies, Remy leads a small group across an apocalyptic landscape in search of the safe government facility her younger brother was sent to. Hollowland is a pretty standard by-the-number Zombie Apocalypse novel. You won’t find too much new ground broken here.  As Remy leads her group, you encounter many of the Post Apocalyptic staples, and evacuated iconic city, violent marauders, small self contained compounds, and apocalyptic cultists. Despite a relatively generic plot, it’s actually a whole lot of fun. If Hocking’s goal was to tell an exciting, fun filled Zombie tale, full of adventure, that would be a great introduction for teenagers to the subgenre, then she definitely succeeds.  Remy White is a well drawn character. She is neither hero nor villain, just a Survivor who is willing to do what it takes to keep her and those she cares about safe. Hocking creates a group of characters that are entertaining, and frustrating, which include a former young rock star, a medical student, and a young impressionable, and volatile teenage girl. Hocking’s female characters are better drawn then her male characters. I found Remy and Harlow to be believable characters, Remy being the tough as nails survivalist, and Harlow her young petulant shadow who just wants to be a normal teenage girl. The boys I found a little bit cookie cutter and less interesting, and this caused me to struggle a bit with some of the romantic elements of the novel. I found Remy’s main love interest to be sort of bland and needy. Of course, I tend not to be a huge romance fan anyway, so there wasn’t much of a loss there. Luckily, the romantic parts were minor and never were a major factor in the narrative. Hollowland is a great introductory novel for those who are looking to stick their toes into the Zombie subgenre. It’s an exciting apocalyptic road trip, with Zombie action that is bloodcurdling and intense but not overly gory. Long time obsessive Zombie enthusiast will find its themes and scenarios familiar, and not wholly original, but if they are looking for a comfortable, surface level Young Adult Zombie road novel, Hollowland is worth the trip. 

Eileen Stevens capably handles the narration for Hollowland. She delivers a measured, even handed reading to the text.  Stevens does a good job capturing Remy’s character, touching the depths of her character. She also nails the sometimes bratty, sometimes vulnerable Harlow. Her male voices weren’t as well developed, often times I had trouble determining which of the teenage mail characters were speaking during some of the more lengthy bits of dialogue. Her pacing was appropriate to the text, never rushing the narrative, allowing the action scenes to play out in their own way. Overall, I feel Stevens gave a strong performance with the tale. Her small weaknesses were more than made up by the depths she gives the female characters, and her crisp, easily understood narrative voice.

Audiobook Review: A Night of Blacker Darkness by Dan Wells

5 04 2012

A Night of Blacker Darkness: Being the Memoir of Frederick Whithers As Edited by Cecil G. Bagsworth III by Dan Wells

Read by Sean Barrett

Audible, Ltd.

Length: 6 Hrs 21 Min

Genre: Comedic Horror

Quick Thoughts: A Night of Blacker Darkness is the perfect audiobook for when you need to infuse a little levity in your life. It’s a quick listen and will provide you plenty of laughs and cause you to look at some literary dignitaries in a new light.

Grade: B+

I really feel there is a lack or well written comedy in literature today. Now, I’m sure upon writing this someone will school me with a plethora of top notch comedic talents writing today, but on my own I have found quite few. In fact, the only author who consistently gets a laugh out of me is Tim Dorsey with his Serge A. Storm novels. There are plenty of authors who write within other genres that have genuinely funny moments, yet rarely do I find novels that are straight comedies that actually make me laugh.  The few that have over the past year or so have been absurdist comedies without much need for plot or character development. Yet, sometimes you just need something that is both a cleverly written comedy as well as a good story.  For this reason, I had been looking forward for quite a while to take a listen to Dan Well’s vampire farce A Night of Blacker Darkness: Being the Memoir of Frederick Whithers As Edited by Cecil G. Bagsworth III. I had first heard about it on Well’s Blog and during one of Larry Correia’s Book Bombs. The Night of Blacker Darkness is a bit of an oddity for Wells, heck it’s an oddity for the publishing industry, so Well’s ended up releasing it as an independent eBook, and eventually an audiobook on Audible. So, I decided I just had to check out something written by Well’s that was a little too strange for traditional publishing, and just might give me a few laughs at a time I needed them.

A Night of Blacker Darkness is a comedy of errors that actually gets both aspects right. The plot is a mishmash of misunderstandings, betrayals, bad assumptions, strange obsessions and delightfully demented characters that comes together in a hilarious way. Fredrick Whithers is planning the crime, and the only thing that is keeping him from pulling it off is the fact that he has already been arrested for it. When Withers pulls off a prison escape in a coffin meant for another, he is greeted by a group of vampires who mistakes him for The Great One of Legend. Now, tailed by his vampiric groupies and hunted by a Vampire Hunter, Fredrick must find a way to pull off his caper while preventing a stake being driven into his heart. Dan Well’s Vampire farce is the perfect antidote to the emo vampire trends that are plaguing the undead. It reads like a classic Laurel and Hardy episode, with quick witted humor, over the top plotting and some delightfully kooky characters both historic and fictional. The story is set in the Victorian England, allowing Fredrick to interact with some classic literary figures before they became the legends they are today. From one poet’s annoying habit of turning every conversation into a rhyming poem to the morbid late night activities of a budding horror novelist, Wells cleverly sets up each appearance so that it will give the reader moments of dawning realizations. A Night of Blacker Darkness reminded me a lot of one of my favorite movies/plays "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." It’s the type of novel I know I could read multiple times and find jokes I missed with each reading.  A Night of Blacker Darkness is the perfect audiobook for when you need to infuse a little levity in your life. It’s a quick listen and will provide you plenty of laughs and cause you to look at some literary dignitaries in a new light.

I really enjoyed Sean Barrett’s reading of A Night of Blacker Darkness. Barrett is the straight man in this audiobook comedy duo. He delivers his reading with the audio equivalent of a straight face, giving the dark humors and goofiness its proper place. His reading reminds me of the Victorian characters of old time radio shows, delivered with a bit more polish and some sardonic wit. I love his voice for John, Fredrick’s seemingly dimwitted companion and struggling poet. He handles all the voices well, including the female characters. Barrett also delivers the witty back and forth dialogue breathlessly, transitioning from one character to the next, never breaking stride. He never overdoes any of the characters, allowing the goofiness to bubble to the surface through the language and situations. A Night of Blacker Darkness is a hidden gem of an audiobook that listeners should consider if looking for something fun and funny.

Audiobook Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

26 03 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Read by Anne Hathaway

Audible, Inc. (The A-List Collection)

Length: 3 Hrs 49 Min

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: . The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a book all should experience whether they’ve seen the movie or not. You may miss the songs, The Lollipop Guild, and the horse of a different color, but you may just find new characters and stories to love as well. Anne Hathaway’s reading allows you to fully immerse yourself in this Wonderful tale.

Grade: A

If the Amish and I have one thing in common, it’s that we both love The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, before ever seeing the movie. For those of you who are younger than me, I grew up in a far off age where most people didn’t even own VCR’s. My family was often the last people to get any sort of new technology. In fact, we even had an 8 Track player, although it was quite old. In those ancient days, you had to wait until movie came on to network television to watch them, especially if, like us, you didn’t have cable. So, movie like The Wizard of Oz were events for our family. We would all gather around the 19 inch TV, and someone would grab the pliers so we could turn the channel since the knob broke long ago. Now, in all likelihood, someone, an aunt or grandparent, put me in front of the TV to watch The Wizard of Oz with drool running down my face and a handful of Tasteeos in front of me. I first read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when I was six years old. After that, when I finally saw the movie, it was glorious, but quite different from the book. To this day, I still love the movie and watch is regularly. It is one of the few things I loved as a child that brings the same level of wonder and joy to the children in my life. Yet, its been decades since I read the book, and with the new audible version, I thought it was time again to ride the cyclone to Oz, follow Dorothy in her silver shoes, and meet those strange people made out of china.

So, this is the part where I am supposed to review the book. Now, I could spend time trying to convince you that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is in fact wonderful. I could come up with some clever way to talk about how L Frank Baum modern fable was almost subversive in the way it reinvented the fairy tale. But really, why bother. If I actually need to convince you that this book is indeed a joy, then I may as well also write a dictum on the deliciousness of ice cream. Yet, I can make some observations. For those of you who only have seen the movie, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz may pale in comparison but I still believe it’s worthy of the experience as an almost addendum. You learn the real story of the winged monkeys. You will meet the ever helpful Queen of the field mice. Most importantly, you will go on one more adventure with Dorothy and the crew from Oz, as they head South to find Glinda. This journey allows them to deal with some pesky trees, discover people made of China, and dodge a strange race of Hammer Heads. This last journey was always my favorite part of the book, because it was like a secret trip that only those who read the book could experience. Some other observations, while yes, The Wizard is a humbug, but he is also a bit of a dick. I am always frustrated that he would send Dorothy on what he believes is a suicide run, to assassinate a rival politician, and it’s laughed off with the line "I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard."  No dude, you sent a little girl to kill a witch, because you were scared everyone will find out you’re a fraud. You are not a very good man. You’re a politician. One thing I always loved about the book is how Baum hit you over the head with the fact that what the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Woodsman desired most, they already had in spades. What I think you miss out in the movie, is that the same also applies to Dorothy. In many ways her love of Kansas is inexplicable, mostly scene through its transformational affects on Aunt Em, who was once young and pretty, but now is shocked by the sound of laughter. I could go surprisingly on and on about this book, although it is quite short, but I won’t. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a book all should experience whether they’ve seen the movie or not. You may miss the songs, The Lollipop Guild, and the horse of a different color, but you may just find new characters and stories to love as well.

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about Audible’s whole A-List thing. I’m not a huge fan of celebrity narrators. All too often you end up listening to the narrator instead of to the book. Yet, Anne Hathaway’s reading of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz totally works. It’s hard not to hear the influence of the 1939 Musical in how she captures some of the characters, particularly Dorothy, and The Cowardly Lion. This creates an interesting issue. One of the things that is often strange for me when viewing The Wizard of Oz is Garland takes on the almost impetuous and naive cadence of an 8 year old girl, which is Dorothy’s true age as opposed to Garland’s actual age of 17 at the time of the performance.. Hathaway perfectly mimics that tone, which is just right for Dorothy, but you can’t help imagining the older Garland when she does it. This really isn’t a bad thing, but it does make for a weird blending of movie Dorothy and book Dorothy. Her voice of The Tin Woodsman has a melancholy tone, an almost feminine softness that is hard to adjust to at first, yet it captures the dichotomy of a character who a times cries when he kills a small bug, but then ruthlessly slaughters a legion of wolves. Most importantly, when you listen you are not constantly hung up on the fact that you are listening to a Hollywood Starlet read you a classic tale. Instead, her voice allows you to fully immerse yourself in the world of Oz, which is in fact, Wonderful.

Audiobook Review: Lost and Found by Alan Dean Foster

13 02 2012

Lost and Found by Alan Dean Foster (Taken Trilogy, Bk. 1)

Read by Oliver Wyman

Audible, Inc.

Length: 10 Hrs and 31 Min

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: While Lost and Found is a light hearted science fiction adventure story, the true fun of the novel is in the wonder and sense of discovery as you meet new and interesting beings, as well as the relationships of four very different characters. Alan Dean Foster has created complex characters with heart, and explores relationships in interesting new ways.

Grade: B

I have always been fascinated by the idea of extraterrestrial life. Growing up in the Star Trek culture, the ideas of aliens excited me, but I was always worried that they would basically be like us, but with wrinkly foreheads or pointy ears. I like aliens to be exactly that, alien. I want lots of arms, and strange orifices. I want aliens who communicate through mental telepathy or by shaking bulbous fat patches in their skin. Three eyes, two heads, squid faces, elephant trunks, whatever, just give me something different. I find the idea of exobiology fascinating, how differing environments on different planets may lead to a differing evolution creating strange creatures. Meeting new alien species is one of the reasons I always enjoyed military science fiction tales like John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, but in those series, you are typically learning about species in order to find a way to kill them. So, when I discovered that Audible was releasing the first novel in Alan Dean Foster’s Taken series, and we’d get to meet a bunch of new  alien species, and perhaps, not need to slaughter them wholesale, I was ready to take the trip.

Lost and Found is the story of Marcus Walker, a Chicago commodities broker who, while camping in California is abducted by aliens. He is held in a cell, reconstructed from his campground without any interaction, until a while later another earthling comes trotting into his cell.  His new friend, named George, explains that they are being held by a strange alien species, called the Villenjji, along with a large number of other aliens. Walker instantly trusts his new friend, which makes sense, since George happens to be a member of a species known for being man’s best friend. Together, Walker and George meet new alien creatures and try to figure away to escape the grip of the Villenjjji. Lost and Found was a fun science fiction adventure. I enjoyed meeting the various alien species living aboard the Villenjji space ship. Eventually Walker teams up with two other aliens, the large monstrous Braouk, and a pompous squid like she-alien named Sque. Both of these alien characters were well realized and added humor and context to the plot. Yet, the heart of the story is the relationship between Walker, and his canine friend, George. George’s intelligence is enhanced by the Villenjji, but he isn’t just an anthropomorphized dog. Foster stays true to his doggy nature, and George acts as conscience for Walker as much as he is his partner. George’s sarcastic personality and loyalty is underscored by a life philosophy that isn’t human, and this made him more than just a cutesy plot point. Eventually, Walker and his friends devise a complex escape plan, and these scenes are well plotted, yet, they almost seem like an afterthought. The true fun of Lost and Found is in the wonder and sense of discovery as you meet new and interesting beings, as well as the relationships of four very different characters. Alan Dean Foster has created complex characters with heart, and explores relationships in interesting new ways. I hope audible continues the rest of the Taken series.

If you are going to write a book about a menagerie of exotic alien species, and need a narrator to give them voice, well, you can’t go wrong with Oliver Wyman. The highlight of his performance is, of course, his voicing of George the dog. George’s snarkiness, and underestimated doggy smarts is perfectly portrayed by Wyman. Another highlight is the big, monstrous Braouk, whose deep slow voice, takes on a rhythmic and melancholy tone when his love of poetry is discover. Brauok speaks in a haiku like fashion, and Wyman capture the poetic structure well. Listening to Lost and Found as narrated by Oliver Wyman is like Christmas morning, with a new gift around every corner. Science Fiction fans looking for a light hearted romp full of fun and humor should give this audiobook a try.