Tag Archives: audiobooks

Reading Program Starts

Yesterday the Summer Reading Program started up. I signed myself and my kids up. I thought this might make a good point to resurrect the writing here.

So much I could have written about in the break: some books, some movies (including the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies, Captain America: Civil War), even games (bought and have started Final Fantasy X). Depressing political stuff, UK and US. Soul-destroying lack of progress on so many things. And then a bit of progress on a few things. The garden’s doing well.

For now? I’m going to start by talking about books and audiobooks, and other entertainmenty things, it’s easier writing about those. Be sure to holler if you want me to opine on anything, mentioned above or otherwise.

I start the reading program partway through the following books:
Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot screenplay
In Search Of The Trojan War, by Michael Wood

I have loaded up the MP3 player with audiobooks, the first one I am listening to is:
Infected, by Scott Sigler.

Sitting around near the computer, on the radar to be read during the Program:
Infected, by Scott Sigler
Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion

And of course, plenty more on shelves in my room.

Also today, I read to kids, which included Yertle The Turtle And Other Stories.

Star Trek: Excelsior – Into Season 3

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a producer of the audio drama Star Trek: Excelsior. James is a friend from a different context, so while I’d heard of his show, I didn’t insert it into my listening schedule until just recently, when he announced the show’s intention to get two stars from Trek’s Original Series for a Trek 50th Anniversary Special episode.

When I started the interview, I’d only listened to a couple of episodes, and when I finished, I’d only heard a couple more. Now, I’ve worked my way through Seasons 1 and 2, and have started Season 3. James recommends new listeners start with Season 4, and if you enjoy that, then to work backwards: the quality of the production improves over time, and if you’re going to put your best foot forward, you might as well point out which foot that is.

So, if you’re interested, go start sometime in Season 4, you’ll be ahead of me. Here’s some thoughts on what I’ve heard so far.

The first thing to note, is I’m more forgiving of a story’s flaws, if I’m enjoying the story. And also, being aware that they don’t recommend starting at the beginning, ignoring that recommendation means I’m more obliged to give the benefit of the doubt, or be more forgiving in general.

Starting with the less-than-stellar: Mr Heaney mentioned the script for the pilot episode, “…There You Are”, is terrible. The briefing room scene certainly is a bit awkward, making very unsubtle introductions to a bunch of characters, and the show’s general concept. Once the story got going, and as it progressed into Season 1, there was less of that sort of awkwardness.

I remember noticing at points in The Next Generation, sometimes a character would introduce themselves, pronouncing their name one way, and then other actors would pronounce the name differently – like the actors interpreted the pronunciation from the script separately, rather than the characters being in the same conversation. Early Excelsior has moments like this, and it feels worst when a non-regular character does it to a regular character, like they really should have listened to some of the show. When Season 3 hits, we have a character mispronouncing the captain’s name, but pretty soon we find out he’s doing it on purpose. Hopefully, this signals the start of a more concerted effort towards consistency in this area.

Have you ever come across a story where someone has a long, formal, needlessly complicated name, and people are obliged to use the whole thing all the time? I can think of a couple of examples, but one acknowledges the concept and the other one outright takes the mickey. In Angel, some characters travel to recurring character Lorne’s home dimension, and he repeatedly gets called (and it’s far too late to fact-check this) “Kreblorne-swath of the Deathwalk clan”. After a few times, one is begging the TV to knock it off. The other example is Veggie Tales’ Lord Of The Rings parody The Lord Of The Beans. Gandalf-equivalent is talking to the Ent-equivalents, and it’s all “Randalf, son of Mandalf, keeper of the flame of” I don’t remember, and the other guy is “Lord Falaminion Tereglith, Son of Therabil Elithimon”. They say each a few times. While not as bad as these, there are points in the first season when the Valandrian leaders get dangerously close to this territory.

Small tangent into Red Dwarf. I read the novels, I had the script books, I watched the TV show. Sometimes lines would get said in the show, not quite in line with how they were written. In the books especially, “Zero Gee” was established as a sport in that universe. In a script, there’s a list of VR sports programs Lister played, and Zero Gee was listed before kick-boxing. Comma between them in the script. In the show, Lister says “Zero-G kick-boxing”. In Psirens, Lister lost his memory, and on being prompted suggests that Rimmer is his best mate. Kryten, acting as his medic, suggests that Lister might not be well. Reading the script implies the line was supposed to be “you are sick”. In the show, it’s delivered more, “you are sick“. There have been moments like this, not very often but occasionally, in my listening to Excelsior, so far. I think that the main part of the problem is that the actors aren’t really bouncing off each other, each reads the lines separately, then sends them to the editor.

Moving on from the negative, I must say I’ve been enjoying the story. I think Season 2 was an improvement on Season 1, and the plus side of listening in this order is that there’s definitely progression: the Season 2 arc definitely follows from the Season 1 arc, and the Season 3 arc (so far, I’m in episode 5) follows on from both 1 and 2.

There’s lots of humour. The title for the Season 3 opener, “All Good Captains Have Admiral Problems”, serves as a good example. And the humour goes hand-in-hand with continuity. A good Trek geek has looked at the Star Trek Encyclopedia, and seen examples of signage on the Enterprise-D, which aren’t in focus in the show. so the set designers put silly things on them. “Wherever you go, there you are” is one, and in the Excelsior show, it’s on the ship’s dedication plaque. It’s referred to in the pilot’s title, “…There You Are”. And then it’s used to humorous effect somewhere in Season 1.

There are also strict continuity references: the Iconian Gateway being technology introduced in TNG, and brought back much later in DS9, and now Excelsior uses one. Many more, of course. Does feel like they’re playing in the same universe.

But there are also sly references as treats for a broader geekdom. Using a sonic screwdriver here, and the Sub-Etha waveband there. If I wasn’t enjoying the story, I think these things would be likely to bug me, but as I’m enjoying the story, my reaction is more Captain America “I get that reference!”.

I think that subtlety can be a hard thing to pull off in audio drama. This is due to a couple of factors: one has to compensate for the loss of nuances one might notice in a visual medium, and so naturally extra emphasis has to creep in. Also, audio is a format where listeners can do other things while imbibing your content. Someone listening while driving is more likely than someone listening and not doing anything else. In short, Malcolm Reynold wouldn’t work in audio drama, because he mumbles way too much (much as I love Firefly). So I might understand someone using the word “overacting”, but I don’t think it’s happening here, I think extra-acting has too happen because of the nature of the beast.

Casual listening was tricky in Season 2, because some voices were entirely in one ear or the other. Made it difficult listening with only one ear in. Haven’t noticed that being a problem in Season 3.

In Season 3, I’m noticing some British phrases being used by non-British characters. I had some “Did they really say that?” that’s gone to “yes, it’s still there”. It’s not spoiling the story, it’s more of an oddity I’m noticing. One could explain it as colloquialisms becoming popular in cultures other than the one in which they originated, an evolution of language (which there would be over nearly 400 years). Or, I suppose, one could let it bug one, or one could ignore it and enjoy the ride.

I look forward to see how the show continues to improve into Season 4.

I think from all that typing, I’m better in a position to conclude.

I like the show.
Why?
Because it cares about the source material. Because the stories are interesting and enjoyable, and really fit the universe in which they’re being played out. Because the show has a lot of character.

I said at the beginning of this post, that there are certain things that make up for shortcomings and rough edges. Excelsior is not without rough edges, but it has more than enough of the good stuff, that I’m glad I interrupted my horrendously long podcast queue to fit this show in now.

The Kickstarter is getting pretty close to $10,000, and if it gets to $11,000 by/on Sunday, then an existing backer has promised to up their pledge by 1,500 to get Chekov on the show (they’ve already reached the threshold to get Uhura on). They stand a good chance of doing it. I jumped into pledging still listening to Season 1. Give a Season 4 episode a bit of a listen, and see if you like it, too.

What I Need To Do To Turn My Planned Project Into A Reality

I’ve mentioned before about the site I want to make. I haven’t gone into much in the way of details about what it’s about. Intentionally so, not because I think you’ll steal my idea, but more because I hope the vagueness now, will make the unveiling more exciting.

Here’s basically the things that I need to do to get it going.

1. POSTS
Turn research into content. Lots of research done so far. Try and get to a post a day.
STATUS: Lousy

2. CONTINUE RESEARCH
Accumulate a bunch for making posts easier, keep ahead so you don’t run out.
STATUS: Pretty good on current list. Resources available to continue afterwards.

3. LOOK OF WEBSITE
As long as it’s easy to navigate, how it looks is less important: at the same time, don’t actually want it to look terrible.
Can be worked on after the site is up, but is also less likely to be worked on after the site is up than before.
STATUS: Poor. Think I have a handle on menus.

4. EXTRA CONTENT:
Have some ideas for podiobook-able things, which will also help extend brand. Located microphone, think taking laptop to garage, and recording under blanket, would work.
STATUS: still relatively concept.

5. PREMIUM CONTENT:
Conversion services: software cursorily tested. Results promising, with caveats. No negotiations entered into. More thorough testing required, may benefit from purchasing sample materials for conversion (possible). Conversion process needs tested, particularly master new format (have test document ready and software installed, not progressed far in the conversion efforts yet).
Translation services: Entirely theoretical.
Audiobooks with site/author/reader/(translator) only at the beginning and end, not at the beginning/end of Every File (unless the book’s really short and only one file).

6. OTHER REVENUE:
Advertising. Have some ideas of who to approach. (also see who approaches). Need established site to make it worth their while. Decide number of spots, perhaps decide on genres for these spots.
Membership. Discounts to sponsors, discount to stuff we sell. Discounts to other people. Make it worth more than cost. Also contingent on establishment.

7. OTHER THINGS TO IMPLEMENT:
Community: forum software. PHPBB probably. Making it look right, I don’t want to think about at the moment. I’ve at least played with the software, call it a STATUS of 7%.
Submissions: Anticipate needing to ask for photos. Integration may be the issue. STATUS: concept only.
Amend a plugin to customize images used. STATUS: Started. Back-burner now, needs lots of concentration.
Find a plugin to implement different-language versions of the site. STATUS: A thought.

Review: Fried Green Zombies

The final of the audiobooks i was listening to for the Reading Program, was Fried Green Zombies by John Allen.

Works about zombies tend to fall into one of two categories: straight horror, or humorous. I don’t think they fit comfortably in the “comedy” genre, as such, because the humour still is contrasted with fairly grisly things going on.

Fried Green Zombies, then, falls into the more humorous category.

Chett and Harry aren’t book-smart, they’re more in the huntin’ and drinkin’ line of things. Clay is book-smart and helps them with that sort of thing, hoping to be able to hang out with them and become “cool”. They don’t treat him very well.

Chett and Harry, at the beginning of the story, come across the mysterious female not-English-speaking burqa-clad Bob, whose story emerges over the course of the book.

Co-incidental with the arrival of Bob, are Chett and Harry’s favourite lake disappearing, and the gradual reanimating of local non-alive people (as well as previously-animal portions of Uncle Crank’s meals).

Some local police also have a long-buried secret that they want to keep buried.

And that’s all before a couple of aliens show up…

That’s quite a few threads that need to hold together, and I thought they held together well. The story was amusing and engaging. I enjoyed it.

On the slightly-less-good side (though I didn’t find it a dealbreaker to enjoyment), I only remember two female characters of note (Bob, and Clay’s mother), and I didn’t think either of them were treated particularly well by the writer. Bob, while fairly central to the story, tends to part ways with her clothes when it is dark (but insists on being very covered when it is light). Clay’s mother is, how shall we put it, traumatised at a non-zombie-related, thing that she saw, that seemed a bit over-the-top, leaping over the border from character into caricature. Comparable to the well-worn trope of women seeing mice and jumping on tables, screaming.

(Tangent – “Remember I have been asleep inside this planet of Magrathea for five million years and know little of these early sixties sit-coms of which you speak.“)

The aliens’ computer has been given a female personality, she is merely treated badly by characters, in comparison. Still, I don’t believe it’s unfair to describe the book as “a bit sexist”.

If that isn’t going to trouble you too much, and the other elements sound appealing, you’ll probably enjoy it. I did, but don’t think I’d give it an A.

Review: Motherload

The last podiobook that I finished while the Reading Program was going, was Motherload by David Collins-Rivera.

Continuing the trend of mostly-science-fiction, in this story we find a guy called Ejoq. He finds himself out of work after the company he worked for went under. Stuck on the planet that had been his destination, and his savings depleting, he manages to get a job on a small vessel that’s supposed to be extra security for freighters, who have been having problems with pirates in the area.

Ejoq and his crewmates soon find their vessel is not quite as well-equipped as it’s supposed to be, and trouble is on the way.

Motherload consists of 3 episodes, about 50 minutes each. The world seemed well thought-through: the economics of employment, the logic of how systems on the ships are laid out. The personalities of the crew: The captain with no leadership skills, the enterprising engineer trying to keep everything together, and so on.

This story is the first in the Stardrifter series. The second story, Street Candles, is also available on Podiobooks. I have to say, after listening to Motherload, I am looking forward to spending more time in this universe.

Street Candles was 40 episodes long, and I knew I couldn’t squeeze much of it at all into the time frame of this year’s Reading Program, and I have a lot of podcasts I’ve put on hold that I’d like to catch up with, so I picked a shorter thing to round out the audiobooks portion of my reading this year. But next year? I have an idea of what’s going onto the mp3 player first.

Reading Program ends

Me: 8 x 4hr blocks read. 8 x 8hr blocks read. All that counted toward the Reading Program. Additional 2 x 8hr blocks read, didn’t manage to get credit for that, with 4 hrs remainder on top of that.

Audiobooks: 79 hours listened to before the end of the reading program: 10 titles completed from Podiobooks, a 4-CD set I reviewed the other day, another title from Podiobooks started and not yet finished.

Countless kids books read.2 graphic novels read> Monuments Men finished (the Famous Five book finished, read to self not kids), got a way through The Ionian Mission but didn’t finish.

Didn’t count a bunch of time spent looking at service books, , or reading articles online

Oldest read 14 x 4 hour chunks, with an hour and a half remainder, and probably some extra stuff that didn’t get timed so didn’t get counted.

Middlest managed to read (well, entirely “be read to”) 8 x 4hr chunks.

Think we did pretty well.

Review: The Wonderful World of Linus Bailey

Part of the experience having kids, is little games you play. Or the little in-jokes. Sometimes, during mealtimes, my wife runs out of water in her cup, and asks if there is a water ninja around. Oldest (usually) will sneak around the table and steal her cup. Sometimes my wife will wonder aloud where her cup went, sometimes she will not notice its absence. Oldest will go and fill it up, and return it, and my wife will express surprise that the cup has been magically filled, or returned. “Thank you, water ninja!” she says, then Oldest will admit it was him and say “you’re welcome!”.

I’ve been known to sing (in an attempt to suggest “Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match”), “Water ninja, water ninja, ninj me some water”.

Another thing that parents sometimes have to deal with is a talkative child. My sister, when she was young (no slight intended against her less-youngness), used to talk nineteen to the dozen. I think perhaps we could have been nicer about that. Middlest also does a lot of chatting, and if you ask her a question, often she’ll go into a long, mostly-unrelated monologue, and trying to interject can be a risky proposition.

In The Wonderful World Of Linus Bailey, Linus is the one to do the talking, usually at least nominally about the subject at hand. His problem, rather, is one of Constantly Making Stuff Up. His dad, in his imagination, is a ninja, who didn’t come back home after saving a nice lady at the Empire State Building, from people with guns. He has a myriad of imaginary relatives, one who owns the left half of the Amazon river, another who owns the right half. An uncle who runs a Viking hat shop. A mine in the back garden, an evil headmaster.

Linus’s problems start when his teacher tells him to not make up any fanciful stories as part of his class assignment (he does anyway), but things get dramatically worse when all the stuff he’s made up actually starts coming true.

I really liked the story. I think it’s one of those stories that has things going on at the kid-level, but plenty of stuff at the grown-up level as well. Of course, using words like “ninjing” like I do, I’m going to enjoy. I found the story clever, well-thought-out, and funny.

I think Oldest will enjoy it, and I’m really thinking of getting him to listen to it.

The Wonderful World of Linus Bailey can be found on Podiobooks, Amazon, Peter James Lamb’s website, and elsewhere.

Review: EDYL – The Reading Department

You might be starting to suspect, by now, that I am somewhat partial to the science-fiction genre. A lot of the audiobooks I’ve listened to in the binge during the reading program, have fallen into this genre.

Well, you’d be right. Science-fiction is rather a large umbrella term for stories,  which usually overlap at least one other genre. Crime, Horror, Comedy, and many more. And just by adding some elements, technological or otherwise, that secondary genre can be substantially expanded.

EDYL – The Reading Department, by Mark Capell, overlaps slightly with the “Spy” genre. Set on Earth in 2046, Jake Radley is about to embark on a new career – but he can’t know what it is until after he’s committed to doing it. After that, the training doesn’t really give him any clues, either.

While this is going on, society-at-large is being filled in for us.

Mr Capell creates an interesting world in the short running time of The Reading Department, with uncertainty on both the societal and the personal level.

I enjoyed it, enough that I don’t want to talk too much about it, so I don’t spoil anything.

The Reading Department ends in a way that you rather want to know What Happens Next, like it’s Part 1 of a series. Technically it is Part 1 of a series, with EDYL – Island Of Immortality available on Kindle. Island Of Immortality, however, is set 71 years later, so we might not find out the rest of Jake’s story.

Still, the possibilities that are left dangling to us, may be a better choice than a direct continuation of the story.

Thumbs up from me.

Review: Some Louis L’Amour Audiobooks

Until recently I was completely unacquainted with Louis L’Amour. Two things have changed that: the first, I picked up a CD collection of his mystery stories for 50 cents in a thrift store; the second, my Grandmother-in-law gave me a CD collection of his Western stories, that she didn’t want anymore.

I listened to the mystery set about a year ago. there are 5 CDs, each with a novel (I think they really count as short stories). Each story lasts about an hour. What I really remember is the speed at which the stories were read. They’re dramatizations, so each character has a different actor, but each person reads quickly, and it seems like the whole thing is very tightly trimmed, so there’s just about no gap between people talking.

I think that this can be a drawback with audiobooks on physical media – you have to make it fit, and you don’t want to use more discs(/tapes[/records]) than you have to. Still, it was a bit more effort to listen to and catch all the important details, than the downloaded audiobooks that I’m used to, where time matters less, so the readers can talk at more of a normal pace.

Despite this, I managed to guess two of the whodunnits before I settled into more of a just-taking-it-in rhythm.

I tried to find a link for this collection (I  Hate To Tell His Widow/Collect From A Corpse/Stay Out Of My Nightmare/Street Of Lost Corpses/The Hills Of Homicide). I did come across an Amazon link, which lists it as an audio cassette, but has the picture of the CD set. I enjoyed it, not quite to “oh-I-must-listen-to-everything-he’s-ever-done” depths. Adhered too closely to the formula for that. Detective solves the crime and gets the girl. Not bad for 50 cents, though.

The Western collection was better. Two dramatisations were narrated by Willie Nelson, the other five stories were completely read by him. Disc One had a full dramatisation of “Riding For The Brand”, with Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash (people I’ve heard of! The latter I’ve heard of more for his music than for his acting, though he seemed fine in this).

Funnily enough, I had to pay closer attention to this collection, too, but for completely different reasons. The reading was definitely not rushed. Mr Nelson’s accent I haven’t had to contend with for such a length in a row, and the drawl doesn’t entirely lend itself to absolutely clear enunciation (now I have the vocal coach scenes from Singin’ In The Rain in my head, and I am amused). Secondly, and more of an issue, is that I haven’t read much in the way of Westerns, so I’m not familiar with all the jargon.

Put it this way: I had to go looking some words up.

Well, not many, most I could figure out from context. There was one story, “The Nester And The Piute”, where I ended up having to look up both Nester and Piute. (In case you were in the same boat as I: you’re welcome.)

Funny story: the way the CDs were ripped, the CD names ended up showing the wrong way round: Disc Four, Disc Three, Disc Two, and Riding For The Brand. So I got all the straight readings first, and the two dramatisations right at the very end.

I enjoyed these, too. Perhaps less familiarity with the genre helped with not finding the stories particularly formulaic, though you’d think I would have done given the next two sentences. There was a fair amount of “stranger shows up and helps folks in trouble. Injuns, while not always necessarily being the bad guys, don’t seem to be depicted with any sort of nuance.

See what I mean? Nuance can be tricky to fit into a short story. And I don’t think I’m familiar enough with either the genre, or actual historical attitudes and expectations, even cultures, to really be able to comment one way or the other that the attitudes and depictions are unfair. Still, those parts I was least comfortable with.

Other than that, these visits to the frontier were pretty interesting, and I enjoyed the stories at face value.

I got this version, in the wooden box, which isn’t terribly happy about staying together without a rubber band. Looking for the collection on Amazon, I also found this one.

Review: Educide

I was out working in the back garden when I finished Window In The Sky, the last Podiobook I had on my player. Forgetting that I had a series of Louis L’Amour short stories grabbed from CD on there, I came in and had a look at the Podiobooks that I hadn’t listened to, yet. Not sure at that point how long the Reading Program would be going on for (ends Aug 7th), I looked for a story that didn’t have a great deal of parts to it.

Educide by S. Lawrence Parrish was only twelve episodes long, and short episodes, as it turned out.

Avery Carmichael arrives at a school as a student teacher, someone learning on the job about what it is to be a teacher. He has been assigned to work with Sam Petersen, a veteran teacher.

In a school where resources are stretched thin, and many students require extra attention, the environment doesn’t start off easy (well, Avery wanted a challenge), and as the story goes on, progressively gets more difficult.

It’s been a while since I was in school, but there are many parts I do remember. Substitute teachers who tried to make things fun, but weren’t really able to handle classes that really test the limits with new teachers. Teachers who start off the year all pleasant, and “you can come to me if you have any problems with your work”, but as the year went on would flip out really easily, and you wouldn’t want to approach them for anything. And of course, teachers who, through whatever miracle, actually made you want to work.

And then the students, the ones you really wanted to see, the ones who you’d go out of your way to avoid.

Sartre had a point when he said “hell is other people”, though I believe he missed the rest of the equation, “so is heaven”.

Mr Parrish wrote school very well. the environment seemed familiar, both students and teachers. And, having worked for other people, the off-campus administrators seemed believable as well.

I found the ending rather a surprise, though I suppose I shouldn’t have. It seemed a logical outgrowth of the way people were treated.

Looking on Podiobooks, I see that Mr Parrish has a few more stories uploaded there. Based on how well this one was constructed, I’m going to have a good look at the others to choose some more to pick out.