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Audio Book News
By Jonathan Lowe

DEC 2012

by Jonathan Lowe

EVEN THE BUTLER WAS POOR by Ron Goulart is an offbeat mystery after the style of the Elmore Leonard movie/book "Get Shorty," but with more spontaneous comic lunacy than an episode of "Mad TV." Rick Dell's parting utterance to his girlfriend H. J., "ninety-nine clop clop," is a cryptic clue that, if figured out, may allow her to retrieve what she's owed. Her ex husband Ben Spanner helps, learns of her former infidelities, and gets involved with blackmailers in the process. The dying utterance in question involves a joke (about a centipede with a wooden leg) that leads to H.J.'s searching inside the leg of a ventriloquist's dummy, among other things, to identify Dell's killers. Goulart has written many genre books under his own name and other pseudonyms. Here he displays his skills at dialogue and descriptions like "the headlights blossomed to life. . .the Mercedes went rushing by like a harsh night wind." Narrator Clifton Satterfield animates the various voices, including female, with distinctive character so that they can't be mistaken. Only the exposition narration and the girl are played straight, while the other characters are allowed more melodrama, like characters on a vaudeville stage. So if you need a breather between those cheerless serial killer entrées, this short novel will enable you to "cleanse your palate" for another course.

RAPT by Winifred Gallagher shows why attention is such a valuable yet often wasted source of happiness and identity. Advertisers fight for your attention because it is the sole currency available to them, and retaining it for persuasion purposes, utilizing psychological tricks and cultural memes, is how they gain market share. When your mind is distracted and unfocused, you become more prone to errors when making decisions, and can be easily swayed by various agendas. Yet there are ways to focus your attention more effectively than simply letting circumstances or television or internet surfing dictate your time and experience. Quality of life depends on paying attention to things that matter, and avoiding those which don't. Using science and research into how the creative mind works, Gallagher gives examples of people in different careers coping with the glut of images and pleas for time and attention, along with how they create happier lives through concentration techniques and learning how to focus. As read by veteran Laural Merlington, it is an engaging book that should hold your attention to the end.

After an election costing roughly five billion dollars, politicians have yet to face the reality that debt ceilings cannot be raised forever, and fiscal cliffs simply get taller over black hole status physics. It will become apparent soon that both politics and sports (perhaps one and the same) are essentially non-productive interlopers in creating wealth and jobs for the economy. It is true that, looking at the short term, these seem to provide wealth, but the immensity of their great facades and their cultural vibrancy in all venues of the media is largely an illusion. They thrive on the backs of taxpayers who produce and provide products and services via sweat equity. In his book MAKERS, the editor of Wired magazine Chris Anderson shows why we must return to manufacturing, and how the future the new industrial revolution will be individual micro-manufacturers of small batch, customized products. Rather than huge plants with massive assembly lines, the market is shifting toward crowd-funded garage startups and small businesses that use new strategies to find customers and generate sales. In the future, more people than ever will run their own assembly line, and may not need to appear on Shark Tank to survive. Read by Rene Ruiz, the audiobook reveals how digital fabrication can utilize online factory services to generate smaller runs of product without the need of a big box store. If you have an idea you'd like to bring to market, this book is a good place to start.

Rod Stewart has led a charmed life. He once survived a flight in which one of the two engines exploded, and the pilot had just the previous day taken a course on maneuvering jets with only one engine running. Buzz bombs in London just missed where he was being born. And the tune that made him a star, "Maggie May," was one he almost threw away. ROD The Autobiography is full of witticisms and reflections on a life with many ups and downs, albeit mostly ups (with the "help" of cocaine and sex addiction.) All the trappings of wealth and fame came to him in spades, along with the women, when he broke away from one of the groups he first began with (and wanted to stay with forever), and set out on his own. His antics on and off stage are detailed, including how he pioneered swinging the microphone stand, even hurling it in the air. The signature voice that stands out is a rarity among all the entries one hears today on shows like The X Factor and American Idol and The Voice, but Stewart's is certainly one of those. As read by the English actor and narrator Simon Vance, the story of Rod Stewart becomes a sometimes colorful adventure that has not been repeated often, as he recalls past friendships with Mick Jagger and others (who also have new autobiographies out, revealing much of the same in parallel accounts.)

Finally, Neal Stephenson, like William Gibson, is something of a hero or icon to geeks and SF fans everywhere, possibly because he validates their obsession with technology by producing rigorous, analytical arguments for understanding science and the world more deeply (in addition to producing true science fiction that is both visionary as well as "cool.") The coolness factor is important. Just ask Steve Jobs (or, rather, read his biography.) It keeps you reading or listening, and in the process experiencing new ideas and thoughts you might otherwise never encounter (especially if watching sports is your usual pastime.) SOME REMARKS is a collection of essays by Stephenson originally seen in magazines or heard in college lecture halls. Jeff Cummings reads Stephenson's opinions and responses to questions, which range from metaphysics to Star Wars to a future that will be shared with China as our pop culture evolves along with religion and philosophy. By "some," I mean 11 hours of insights from the author of some of the most critically praised visions of the future (and the past) out there, including Snow Crash, (which I believe was a watershed in audiobook production, as it introduced a new level of sophistication and playfulness to the medium, as read by Jonathan Davis.) Stephenson makes the case that SF is the only true genre fiction, as all the other classifications have either gone away or been absorbed into the mainstream. Science fiction remains unique as a separate entity, and while some look down their long noses at it in scorn, it is the one and only fictional type with the most range of new ideas. "Idea porn," he calls it. Not just an extrapolation of existing trends, but an anticipation of how new technologies and knowledge will change how we think and work. It is only by contemplating these things that we can come to acquire the "good explanations and knowledge" that David Deutsch references in his densely realized treatise, "The Beginning of Infinity," (which examines how progress is made, and what prevents it.) So if you believe the maxim "I think, therefore I am," then what are you---or I---if we don't encounter new thoughts?

2012 Past Columns