I recently came across this TED Talk, in which Ken Robinson brings some very insightful comments on the focus of schools and the potential pitfalls of focusing on a limited and limiting view on intelligence, knowledge and learning.
Month: May 2011
Part of the point of this website - though it may not be as obvious as it was at the beginning - is to discuss literature.
While I have recently had my books on the Russian Liberation Movement returned to me, making this an obvious topic for a future article, there is another thing I have been thinking about doing a feature on.
I started listening to audiobooks when I had a dog. This may seem a curious result, but our dog Pushkin (every literary reference intended) got me walking ten miles a day, and it gets old… at the time I was listening to podcasts like Lugradio and Linux Reality, and Chess Griffin did a Linux Reality episode where he mentioned podiobooks - serialized audiobooks.. I listened to a couple of them - 7th Son by J. C. Hutchins and the outstanding and extremely creepy sci-fi horror story Crescent by Phil Rossi - and have been doing it ever since.
When I was a teenager, I briefly looked into audiobooks and… hated them. At the time, I was entirely unable to deal with the fact that they ran at a pace different from my reading speed. Also, I suspect that this was because the people reading the audiobooks were talking… very… slowly… and… without… variation…
So that wasn’t a winner.. But it has changed. Partly because a book like Crescent has good effects and a narrative style that will keep my attention.
I get the impression that people are getting more into it, along with the popularity of podcasts. I actually see audiobook CDs in the stores nowadays, a sure sign of the time. I suspect this is partially because nearly everyone has an audio player available these days. Even a fairly cheap phone like my Elm has a decent MP3 player and 2 Gigs of storage built in.
But where to start? Well, I have a solid selection. I’ll show you.
From the thriller-plus-entertainment department: Black Jack Justice is a classic hard-boiled, banter-centric series of episodes, where each episode is a finished story.
Jack and his girl detective sidekick Trixie Dixon and a gallery of entertainingly stereotypical characters work their way their way through their cases, aided and obstructed by cops and crooks alike. If you are into old sleuth movies, you will want to listen to these.
Also, they are a good introduction to audiobooks, because they are finished segments, well-read and with good effects.
Though other themes are involved here - but genre mix is probably the case with independent publication more often than mainstream - Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword is another detective novel set in Chicago in the thirties. Billibub is a dwarf warrior magically transported from his own Tolkien-style universe, ending up in Chicago. After getting his bearings, he starts his own detective agency. The story is a curious mash-up of Billibub’s reflections mixed in with experience from his old world - as in battle axes and elvish ladies - but Tee Morris also manages to wrangle a real detective novel out of it.
The story is published as a podiobook, i.e. a series of recorded chapters.
Sci-Fi and variations
Jake Bible’s Dead Mech is a potent action-packed sci-fi horror novel. The population has been decimated by a zombie infestation. As a result, soldiers go out in giant mechs to fight the zombies, and with good results; however, when a pilot dies in his mech, you suddenly have a zombie mech… and that’s a different story.
If you can’t stand blood and gore, don’t consider this one. If you don’t mind and can take the soldier jargon, this one is for you. You certainly won’t be bored.
It is hard to get around published and bestselling Scott Sigler (more of him in this article) when talking about audio- and particularly Podiobooks. I would actually recommend listening to all of it, but a good place to start is Earthcore. He is tough and talented.
One of the most well-known and appreciated audiobooks ever must be the 7th Son books by J. C. Hutchins. After the assassination of the US president, a group of people with very different backgrounds are captured and brought together, and it is revealed to them that they are actually clones - that their childhood memories are not actually their own, but belonging to the original person, John Alpha, from whom they are cloned - and who has now gone rogue. He is behind the murder of the president and with plans for considerably worse acts.
Christof Laputka brings The Leviathan Chronicles, an elaborate story centering around a young woman who discovers that she is in fact descendant of an woman who was the first of a group of immortal humans. Fractions of these immortals wage war on each other, while a government agency is also trying to eradicate them.
This serialized audiobook is an extremely polished product with professional voice acting, production and sound effects.
Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff won a Parsec Award - the award of excellence in the field of audiobooks/Podiobooks - for his high-paced thriller Number One with a Bullet. In this story, retired hitman Johnny Dane is drawn into a contest setting the world’s best assassins against each other with a group of very wealthy men betting on the outcome.
Nemcoff tells the story with great voices and ever-changing pace.
Update May 2013: Nemcoff has taken these books off of Podiobooks, and I can not seem to find the audiobook anymore. Still, his website links to a selection of his audiobooks. Do consider them - he is a strong action writer.
In his podiobook 65 Below, Basil Sands takes us to Alaska. Retired Marine Marcus Orlando Johnson is confronted with a complex plot for a terrorist plan to unleash an extremely potent biological weapon.
A well-told story with good characters. While this is my favorite Basil Sands book, consider also listening to his Faithful Warrior.
Update September 2012: Basil Sands has taken these books off of Podiobooks, which makes them less free, but not less good, and you would have made a donation anyway, right? The books are available for purchase from basilsands.com.
From a more scientific angle, Bill DeSmedt brings us Singularity, a thriller based on the premise that the Tunguska meteor impact was in fact a tiny black hole now orbiting inside the Earth. There is even a sort of scientific companion to the book explaining the physics. An intelligent read working from an interesting hypothesis.
I have to say, I would never have expected an audiobook to be scary. I also have to say that Crescent by Phil Rossi had my skin crawling. I often listen to these books while doing something else, but this one had me stopping to listen. The story takes place on Crescent Station. This is a story in space, but there are bad things even there, lurking in the night, wanting to chew on your flesh…
There are good… as in effective… effects in this story. Don’t listen to this if you have a heart condition, but if you like a good horror story, go for this one.
In the same family, but from a different angle, is Where Evil Grows by S. Lawrence Parrish. This is more of a young adult type of serialized novel; it deals with a group of teenagers with their kind of issues - along with a more sinister presence growing at the school. It is somewhat reminiscent of It by Stephen King or Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. It is a solid piece - not chilling like Crescent, but well told and catchy.
Only one recommendation for this category, but a strong one. The Gearheart by Alex White introduces the Seekers, a mysterious order merging mechanics and magic. There is spying and deceit, there are mechanical beings, there are intricate mechanical devices kept running by magical glyphs signed by magician mechanics. Very pure steampunk. Certain things - particularly the order of the Seekers - reminded me of the universe portrayed in the incredibly immersive (and addictive, if it is your thing) video game series Thief.
It is worth taking a look at the interview with Alex White at The Traveler’s Steampunk Blog. He has done the voices - an impressive array of distinctive voices - with his wife, and he has composed and played the featured music himself.
Note that there is also a sequel, Maiden Flight of the Avenger; I recommend listening to The Gearheart first.
Now, I am really not a Fantasy guy. I read the Dragonlance books and Ravenloft and loved them, but apart from that, writers trying to become the next Tolkien who invent their own languages so it all sounds like Celtic Klingons with Old Norse cousins… hard for me.
However, I will recommend two books.
The first, Murder at Avedon Hill by P. G. Holyfield, is a very solid tale - it is like a fantasy version of Name of the Rose: An intelligent monk and his apprentice investigate the death of a local woman employed at the local manor. Secrets and magic. It is well-written and well-told.
Second, The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker - also a fantasy crime novel of sorts. A female police officer is tasked with going undercover to stop the assassin threatening the life of the emperor. Magical beings, murder and political intrigue make this story interesting.
As it may be clear, it is a bit of a challenge to find a category for Underwood and Flinch. While the book has aspects of a horror story - it revolves around a family - Flinch - of servants to an ancient vampire, Underwood. So, just to make it easier on you: It is a horror-thriller with a solid dose of comedy.
A new addition to the original article, I would like to mention Broken Sea.
This site is dedicated to fan fiction, the genre where the author sets the story in an established universe. An example of this is A Different Point of View, a serialised audiobook from the viewpoint of a Star Wars stormtrooper.
This is a contested issue from time to time because of the copyright issues, but here we have Broken Sea, a site apparently dedicated to a wide range of fan fiction.
I have not listened to all of it, for several reasons. First, there is an insane amount of audio, they have really been hugely productive. But also, the authors set some of the stories on the background of shows I have never heard of. An example is Logan’s Run, a show a lot people have said good things about, but I have no idea…
What I can say is that I have listened to the Dr. Who show, and that is very well done. While I only really got into the Tom Baker version of the Doctor, I liked the show, and this audio show certainly fits well in that atmosphere.
Another show I caught was Gaia, a show set in the Star Trek universe. Of course, one would expect to find Trekkies on a site like this… the show is well-written and well-performed, and I find that the characters are quite balanced and interestingly diverse. Gaia is a zoo ship working as a sort of ark to prevent ecological disaster wiping out the Earth species, a situation the Earth has recently been recovering from.
While I have not had time to listen to the others yet, I noted Battlestar Galactica, X-files, Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes. Already with this list - about half of the shows - I would have enough audio to last me for a very long time, even if I took a break from podcasts.
I will update this section when I have listened to more of the shows.
I should not neglect to say: These deeply talented people have made these stories available to us. Consider giving them a contribution. Most of them have versions of their works for sale, sometimes in print, sometimes ebooks, sometimes higher-quality recordings.