Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Audio Buzz, Past
Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

August 2009

by Jonathan Lowe

Buzz Aldrin relates his own personal experience of the first moon landing of Apollo 11 in MAGNIFICENT DESOLATION, an audiobook co-written with Ken Abraham, and narrated by Patrick Egan, chosen for his no-nonsense delivery (since the book is told first person.) The first two CDs chronicle the mission itself, from launch to touchdown and back, leaving little out that one might want to know about the mechanics of what actually happened. It's the kind of account you might pay to hear in an auditorium, and not regretting afterward the price of admission. Included here are reactions to the tense moments when everything has to work precisely or else. Like when they arrived, and Neil drifted over acres of boulders looking for a good spot to put down, and then were forced to land within thirty seconds or run out of fuel and crash. Or when Buzz used his pen to unstick a faulty switch prior to liftoff from the moon. You wonder what that must have been like, for sure—knowing that if the engine doesn't fire, there would be no rescue, just a short wait until air runs out as you stare across what Buzz described as "magnificent desolation" toward a distant, blue Earth. After the first two CDs, then the audiobook slows down, and the remaining narrative branches out from the actual feat accomplished to reveal (in depth) what Aldrin and his fellow astronauts faced, coming home: the hordes of journalists that awaited them to emerge from quarantine. The endless parades in New York, Chicago, and around the world. How it all began to seem as though they were puppets on display for NASA's public relations department. The alcohol and depression that this led to, in Aldrin's case. And how he coped. Finally, there is reflection on what it all meant, and what it means today. Aldrin admits that not much space science was achieved by Apollo 11, and although the missions that followed to the moon had more science, they also got far less press. Should we go to Mars, and what is the cost of going or not going, considering that engineering science would no doubt benefit? The book attempts to give a big picture to all these subjects, yet asks more questions than it answers. But that's okay. It's honest and gutsy. . . although, granted, 40 years have elapsed. Egan, as a narrator, disappears as he should, and if you didn't know Aldrin's voice you'd believe it was him speaking: an engineer, weary yet optimistic, eyes open to the moment, yet seeing beyond his own horizon. (Random House Audio; 13 hours unabridged)
Another chronicle of how the moon landing happened, (as well as an examination of what the country was like at the time, for those too young to remember). can be found in ROCKET MEN by Craig Nelson, a look behind the scenes at NASA, and into the living rooms of all the astronauts involved. The "one small step" that Neil Armstrong took was also the giant leap for mankind that President Kennedy envisioned, and although (as stated above) not much in the way of space exploration was achieved by the mission, it did pull together the country (and the engineers) to accomplish a monumental technical and political goal. A former editor and winner of the Henry Adams prize for his book Thomas Paine, Nelson is rigorous in his research, methodically examining the Cold War space race while uncovering all the minutia that went unnoticed by the press. Narrator Richard McGonagle is a good choice to read the chronology, replete with its many interesting anecdotes, since his masculine voice would also be ideal for a sports biography. Essentially, that's really what this was: a touchdown on the moon. No one really cared about the moon landings that followed, as most Americans were too busy watching ball games on TV. Buzz Aldrin's story, being part of this history making event, gets told too, although Aldrin's own full biography is obviously more detailed in that regard. (Penguin Audio; 17 hours unabridged)
Next, it makes sense that two lonely geeks at Harvard with an interest in girls would be the founders of Facebook, the upscale social mega website (whose less upscale rival, MySpace, has animated ads featuring young girls staring alluringly into computer screens, hoping to score the most credit card numbers.) In THE ACCIDENTAL BILLIONAIRES, Ben Mezrich (the gambling author of Bringing Down the House) chronicles how a couple of rowing jocks with an idea to meet the babes of Harvard online defer to a computer geek named Mark Zuckerberg, who in turn develops his own framework for something more than the jocks, called "The Harvard Connection." Mark, prior to meeting them circa 2003, had hacked the university's computers as a crank, collected women student photos, and started up a crank website he called Facemash. before being forced to shut it down. So the jocks needed the geek to write code for them. What happens next is detailed in the subtitle for the book—sex, money, genius, and betrayal. The story is told chronologically, with enough anecdotes to keep the somewhat imagined narrative moving, using creative hypotheses to reconstruct Zuckerberg's thoughts and actions, given statements from Mark's one-time partner and friend, Eduardo Saverin. (Incidentally, the university's hacked student database was called Facebook, the very name Mark eventually adopted as, with the idea of creating an actual interactive social destination like those from which he'd been denied entry.) The book is narrated by Mike Chamberlain, a stage and voiceover actor. Obviously it is not the full story, since Zuckerberg refused to cooperate with interviews for the book, but if you like your fiction with more than a grain of truth behind it, you could do worse. (Random House Audio; 7 1/2 hours unabridged)
Next, Clive Cussler takes the helm from James Patterson for a new compilation of suspense stories called THRILLER 2. The choices are marked more by subtlety than mere shock or bloodletting, as eleven narrators deliver short fiction by twenty-three authors, including Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Jackson, Ridley Pearson, R.L. Stine, and Philip Margolin. Of particular originality is a suspense blended with SF titled "The Fifth World" by Javier Sierra, and Kathleen Antrim's "Through a Veil Darkly." Don't have other things on your mind, or you might miss some of the subtlety here, and be forced to backtrack. Such is usually the case with short stories, which are finely focused gems with little wiggle room for inattention. Narrators are mostly on target in this iPod-ready collection introduced by Cussler, and include Susan Ericksen, Mel Foster, David Colacci, and Jim Bond, among others. (Brilliance Audio; 14 1/2 hours unabridged)
Finally, in the new book CHEAP—The High Cost of Discount Culture, Ellen Ruppel Shell describes how we have fallen for the deceptions of discount stores, thinking we are getting a bargain. What is actually the result here, though, is low quality, low wages, and a richer rich. On the tube, we are constantly shown sales, sales, and more sales, with price the most important point being touted; while such a concept as price is meaningless by itself, and is instead an elusive (and profitable) tool used to manipulate us. This book, narrated by Lorna Raver on audio, is a fascinating look at how we are brainwashed and diverted from the big picture. Of particular attention for Shell is Ikea, described as the most environmentally unsustainable company on the planet. She also quotes studies made by Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational about how we fear any loss even more than we seek a gain. Do we know that if we paid 24 cents more for a $20 shirt, a sweatshop worker in China could get a 30% pay hike, and be able to feed his or her family? No, we don't, because these facts are kept from us by merciless market forces which dictate competition among giants like Wal Mart. And then there's the food industry, where price point is the entire game, irrespective of secondary considerations like nutrition. Getting stuffed cheaply seems to be all that matters, and with hidden trans-fats and saturated fats married to salt and diabetes-inducing high fructose corn syrup. (Hey, ya gotta die sometime, pal, might as well be sooner than later, right?) Narrator Raver keeps the right level of urgency throughout the production, neither slipping into dull recitation nor over-the-top dramatics. (For my interview with Raver, see The listener comes away with a new perspective on advertising techniques, and finds new questions popping up too, like a) Why are Floridians importing shrimp from the Far East when a superior product is available off their own coast? b) How can a giant hamburger cost only 99 cents, without there being something inferior about the meat involved? (Corn fed beef means higher fat, and like "Atlantic" salmon which never sees the ocean, the cows never see a grazing field). Finally, c) Whatever happened to the phrase, "you get what you pay for"? (Actually, you don't, anymore—you get considerably less than you paid for, which is the whole point of the discounting shell game, well researched by this revealing Shell.) (Tantor Media; 11 1/2 hours unabridged)

2009 Past Columns

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.