Audiobook Review: Swan Song by Robert McCammon

22 11 2011

Swan Song by Robert McCammon

Read by Tom Stechshulte

Audible, Inc.

Length: 34 Hrs 22 Mins

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Dark Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: While Swan Song is one of my favorite all time books, and a must read for fans of Post Apocalyptic fiction and Dark Fantasy, I found the experience of it much more rewarding than remembered. Maybe it’s being older, or experiencing it as an audiobook, but revisiting this world only made me love it more.

Grade: A

If I had to pick two novels that truly defined my teenage years and set the framework for what kind of reader the adult me would become, the first of those books would be Stephen King’s The Stand and the second, Robert McCammon’s nuclear post apocalyptic dark fantasy, Swan Song. Swan Song doesn’t get the mainstream hype that The Stand does, but by true hardcore fans of Post Apocalyptic novels, it is considered a classic to rival and for some even surpass Stephen King’s plague opus. I first read Swan Song when I was 15 and since have read the book completely through four more times. Swan Song was one of the books I always kept on my nightstand, and occasionally would pick it up to relive a favorite passage. It is quite hard for me to sit down and write a review for a book that I just truly love. So, this will be less of a review, and more of a sharing of my experience reliving the events of this novel in a different format. I really don’t listen to many novels that I have already read, this year my only “relistens” were the Wild Cards anthology and Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Yet, when I found out that Swan Song was coming to audio, it was a given that I would be listening to it as soon as it was released.

One of the reasons that audiobooks work so well it that stories are meant to be told, and the best books, to be read aloud. Experiencing Swan Song in audio form took a story I knew so well, and gave it a new spin, letting me relive it, yet opening things up to me that I never realized was there before. Yes, the same tales were there, the same characters did the same things, but in listening, the prose and poetry of McCammon’s world took on a whole new beauty. I have read many times of Sister Creep and her fantasies, of being chased by fire through the tunnels of New York City, yet, in audiobook form the words were crisper and the rhythms more discernable. There are so many moments in this novel that have stuck with me for years, that I even thought of them in terms not in the book, like Paul and his radio roulette, and Josh and his fist breaking through the scorched earth. I have been haunted and thrilled by these images. Yet, I think other things affected me more this time, McCammon’s descriptions of the initial attacks, the changing relationship between Swan and her protector cum father figure Josh invoked truly emotional responses that surprised me. I spent more time reliving the relationships then reveling in the action. I even found more depth of character in the stories of various antagonists like Colonel Macklin and Roland.  While Swan Song is one of my favorite all time books, and a must read for fans of Post Apocalyptic fiction and Dark Fantasy, I found the experience of it much more rewarding than remembered. Maybe it’s being older, or experiencing it as an audiobook, but revisiting this world only made me love it more.

I have to hand it to the narrator Tom Stechshulte. I definitely had voices and preconceptions of the characters in my head and I knew, just knew I would be disappointed when I heard his versions of the character voices. Yet, for the most part, he found the perfect tones for characters. Yes, there was a bit of a strange feeling hearing some of these characters voiced, especially Sister, yet, I really grew to enjoy his various takes on the characters. What really impressed me with Stechshulte’s reading was how he captured the timing and rhythms of McCammon’s writing, showing me poetry where I didn’t realize it existed. I did have a few technical and peevish issues at times. Occasionally there was a slight background buzz in the production and some distracting extraneous mouth sounds, but most of it got smoothed out as the audiobook progressed. Any little peevish issues I had in no way took away from the overall enjoyment of the audiobook production. I just hope that this title is successful enough to bring other classic McCammon titles into the audiobook world, especially The Wolf’s Hour and Mystery Walk, as well as his more recent Matthew Corbett series.