Things About Stuff: Food, Sounds, Comics and Waffle

Braindrops from the Clouds of Earth-X  


Posted onSeptember 22, 2011 by     2 Comments

I’ve become a huge fan of audiobooks. I should be listening to music more, really, considering I still haven’t listened to the newest Radiohead album after purchasing and downloading it when it came out. Shocking, I know.

But audiobooks seem to take up all my earspace and there is little chance to listen to music whilst at home. An evening bath, cycling to and from work: it’s the spoken novel that is my companion. Maybe it’s a regression to childhood, wanting to have someone read me a story. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a slow reader, so it’s easier to let someone else do the work.  After all, I do have a lot of comics, Wired and a large backlog of novels to read, too. No sense adding more that require my actual effort.

The “slow reader” aspect is quite relevant as it puts me off long books – I’ve had a copy of “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” for what seems like forever without getting past the first 50 pages.  Length can be off-putting, without euphemism or double entendre intended.

And that’s where an audiobook can come in. I listened* to Peter F Hamilton’s “Pandora’s Star” a while back and I can say for definite that this is not a book I would have approached in its solid form. Way, way too large. But I have a latter-day, burgeoning love of Sci-Fi, so thought listening might give me a way in. It did – but I also know for sure I wouldn’t have finished this if I was reading it. Some sections are extraordinarily slow with detail that is utterly superfluous…but overall it’s a compelling, galaxy-spanning space opera with some well-defined characters and massive scale of intent.

I enjoyed its 37.5 hours (that would be about 3 months reading for me, I fear) enough to get “Judas Unchained“, the sequel – actually, more than a sequel as the first book is really all set up. This is the one that was worthwhile and all that set up finally pays off. Two books I would have never gone near without this format.

The same is possibly true, though less likely, of Iain M. Banks books. I’m three down on them now and it is these, in particular, that highlight a crucial aspect of audiobooks: the narrator. If the voice isn’t recorded well and performed well, it’s really not worth it. Neil Gaiman reading his own “Graveyard Book” is terrific – he has a mellifluous voice and, of course, understands the characters and narrative so well, that it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it better.  Similarly Stehen Fry.

But the pick of the crop, so far, is Peter Kenny on Banks’ Culture novels. A wide range of accents, never missing a beat between characters, and a knack for characterisation that is simply superb make him more than just a narrator but a component of the book itself. The voice of your imagination. By comparison, the narrator of the Hamilton books, John Lee, whilst good, has a tendency, even through different accents, to make most of the characters sound as if they have the same attitude in delivery.

Kenny’s realisation of the antihero ship Demeisen (as avatar, or Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints as its full name) is a new favourite character, in strong part due Kenny’s his reading. I find myself likely to read other books based on his narration rather than any knowledge of the writers, which I didn’t expect.

At some point, reviews to follow…


[*I’m still looking for a better word than “listened” as specific to books and having the same intent as “reading”; you do need to engage more than with a tune, I think, so it’s not quite the same as music.]



Tags: , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Audiobooks”

  1. Mark says:

    Messrs Hamilton and Banks – probably my two favourite authors. I love the Culture novels, the sheer scale and imagination of the technology is fantastic. I’ve never managed to get started on Feersum Endjinn though as I keep trying to vocalise the odd spellings and it gets too distracting.

    Once you’re done with Judas Unchained the earlier Night’s Dawn books are just as good, as is the following Void Trilogy.

    In the sci-fi vein you might also enjoy Alastair Reynolds and Banks’ non-culture Transistion is worth a punt.

    Toodle pip and love to Stella!

    • Andy says:

      Cheers, matey! Already audioed Transition, which I liked, though the Culture novels are better (Phlebas, Player of Games and Surface Detail done so far).

      Shall see what audio options are on Audbile for Reynolds, thanks…

Leave a Reply