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Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

July 2007

reviewed by Jonathan Lowe

In the classic SF story "A Boy and His Dog" author Harlan Ellison postulated a post apocalyptic world in which a young man wanders through a devastated urban landscape with an intelligent dog. The story was an award winner, made into a less than successful film. On the same theme, now, comes THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy, who is past winner of the National Book Award, and here garners more adulation than any of his previous books. The plot is threadbare, as not much happens to "the man" and "the boy," as they are called. Not only don't we really know who these characters are, but we don't know what has happened to them, or where they are going. Perhaps it's nuclear winter, because the world is definitely dying. On the road to the sea in futile hope of survival, they move through a blasted landscape where not even birds fly anymore. In fact, their relationship is all they have left, other than some blankets and a shopping cart. By focusing on this relationship, though, and by making these two characters representative of us all, McCarthy saves the story from collapse with allegory, revealing that the universal will to survive can ennoble the human heart, which needs love and hope even in the face of annihilation. Narrator Tom Stechschulte is a rare breed of actor whose ability to seamlessly simulate reality is unsurpassed.
Disappearing behind the text, Stechschulte adds authenticity with a natural rhythm and empathetic tone. (Recorded Books; 6 3/4 hours unabridged) AMAZON.COM

In PLAY DEAD by David Rosenfelt a rich lawyer named Andy Carpenter didn't get rich by practicing law, but rather by winning the lotto. So he doesn't need to pay his bills with high profile corporate cases. Since he has an affection for golden retrievers, when he finds one in danger he's on the case. The dog shouldn't be alive, because it had to swim so far to shore, and yet there it is, at the pound, awaiting doggie "execution." Soon the dog is key witness in a crime, but can the judge take canine testimony seriously? Essentially a murder trial story, the novel is also unusual for its witty self deprecation, and is penned by the author of an even more amusing tale, "Bury the Lead." Narrator Grover Gardner is the ideal voice to interpret these offbeat characters, with a pitch perfect rendition that's eccentric and rough around the edges when it needs
to be, and most pleasant, rich, and intriguing when it doesn't. (Listen & Live Audio; 8 hours unabridged) AMAZON.COM

What is the true secret of happiness? Can it be achieved by being a rat racer, scurrying to gather as many nuts as possible? Quite simply, no, according to Tal Ben-Shahar, author of HAPPIER, and the lecturer behind Harvard University's most popular course, "How to Be Happy." Being happy is more about psychology than achievement, so you don't need a big job promotion, a new love life, or even a book telling you how to change your luck. Being happy is about being alive in the present, not just living for the future. So a more important currency than money is the currency of joy, earned through friendship, honesty, trust, experience, and some simple exercises that the author outlines with the help of straightforward and helpful reader Jeff Woodman. Simple enough, but only if one manages to dodge the brainwashing of a mass media urgently selling substitutions for happiness in the form of mass marketed consumer products. (Highbridge Audio; 4 1/2 hours abridged) AMAZON.COM

Cambridge professor Rebecca Stott's debut novel is GHOSTWALK, about the mysterious drowning death of a Cambridge University scholar right before the completion of her biography of Isaac Newton. The dead woman's son recruits his former lover to complete the controversial book, which results in the investigation of two separate murders sprees. The point of view moves between 17th century Cambridge, where Newton was hindered in his studies, to in present day Cambridge, where an animal rights group is involved. Lydia Brooke's work is guided by a ghost from Newton's time, who advises her that the role of Newton's alchemy involved supernatural forces. To this day it's a mystery what Newton was really up to with his dabbling in alchemy, and Stott offers up her own postulation here, in this entertaining and descriptive debut. Reader Susan Duerden can be cited for maintaining interest throughout the romantic cross genre mystery with an engaging yet sensitive performance that presumes more than just acquaintance with both the characters participating and the audience listening. (Random House Audio; 6 hours abridged) AMAZON.COM

Finally, SF writer Philip K. Dick was known for his short stories, primarily. A surprising number of them have become the inspiration for movies, like "Blade Runner," "Total Recall," and "Minority Report. " In MARTIAN TIME SLIP and THE GOLDEN MAN, two novellas on the theme of what it means to be human are narrated by Grover Gardner. In the first, a mentally "ill" boy just might hold the key to the future, and a real estate scam on Mars serves as a means to reveal the truth, along with a murder. The second tale inspired the recent movie "Next," and employs the cliché so often used by comic book writers, postulating a post-holocaust America populated by mutants. Dick elevates the story by introducing one of the mutants as a mute yet perfect young man, whose very perfection (rather than his hideous deformities) make him a target for destruction by government agencies. The irony is that this so-called "mutant" may actually be the next step in evolution for mankind, superior in strength and beauty, but more importantly devoid of the egotistical passions we currently possess, or the fears that inspire envy and revenge. Gardner narrated the first story almost ten years ago, and the second this year, adding to his total career number of over 550 titles narrated. (Blackstone Audio; 9 1/2 hours unabridged) AMAZON.COM

2007 Past Columns


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