AUDIO BOOK REVIEWS
by Jonathan Lowe
to see how ANNIHILATION compared
to the audiobook (which is actually a trilogy), I
can report that the movie is definitely worth the
price of admission, whether of not you’ve read
or listened to the books. Still, it’s a different
animal, and there are plenty of strange creatures
populating both movie and “audio movies.”
Natalie Portman stars with several of director Alex
Garland’s Ex Machina actors, particularly Oscar
isaac, who was fantastic. Mood is everything, and
although there are elements of horror, the movie does
keep close to the tone of Jeff VanderMeer’s
2014 science fiction Southern
Reach novel, which won a Nebula award. An opening
shot of a meteor striking a lighthouse in the swamps
of a park on the coast of northern Florida is followed
by jigsaw scene pieces that move back and forth in
time, like Pulp Fiction. The book is told through
the biologist’s field journal into an expedition
of Area X, which shimmers with inexplicable power.
Others have died, going in, either (it is believed)
by attack or by turning on themselves. Whereas the
film takes a women with weapons direction, the book
is more about induced visions and journals, with a
“Crawler” writing cryptic messages on
the walls of a tower that need to be decyphered. (Special
effects and shooting sports being more important than
reading or language, these daze.) Both concern biology
and change being forced upon humanity. Why doesn’t
the Army just roll in with tanks, or nuke it? Because
the scientists want to understand it, as in Avatar.
And this is not something that bullets can stop, anyway.
It’s DNA, a subtle invasion and evolution of
all species. Since change is scary, too, a few are
in denial it’s happening…but giant hybrid
creatures about to eat you (before transforming you)
are difficult to deny, and so even the Army is freaking
out…as they did in Arrival (based on the 2002
book “Stories of Your Life and Others”
by Ted Chiang, which may have influenced VanderMeer,
since it is also about understanding alien language,
and also includes a tower.) As for Alex Garland, he
BEACH as a novel, which became the Leonardo
DiCaprio film. (Alex also wrote The
Tesseract, scripts for Halo,
Days Later, Dredd,
Let Me Go, Big Game, Annihilation, and Ex
Machina.) On audio, Annihilation
is narrated by Carolyn McCormick.
And speaking of wild horror creatures, there is THE
SLENDERMAN MYSTERIES by Nick Redfern,
narrated by Shaun Grindell. (Footnote: In
the movie Annihilation, look for a Slenderman
effect! Intentional or just optical illusion? Near
the end, in the lighthouse, for about two seconds
of special effects.) Subtitle of the Redfern book
is “An Internet Urban Legend Comes to Life.”
Horror that was a hoax, but played out in real life
in the news. Redfern is definitely a believer in the
supernatural, UFOs, Ancient Astronauts (nuts), and
nightmare creatures that get profiled on The “History”
Channel. In real life the only nightmare creatures
I’ve seen in the woods are wolves, and there
is the non-fiction book AMERICAN
WOLF by Nate Blakeslee, narrated by the
always great Mark Bramhall. A real
treat, following the clash between wolves and other
animals in the West, particularly in Yellowstone and
involving naturalist Rick McIntyre. Great writing,
great narration. The rare wolves I witnessed in the
wild were in Arizona and New Mexico, while driving
through remote wilderness in the Gila National Forest.
No shimmers of light, though.
Bonansinga is an award winning indy filmmaker and
screenwriter who has worked with horror legend George
Romero, Will Smith’s production company, and
Dennis Haysbert’s The Unit, among
others. His debut novel THE
BLACK MARIAH was a finalist for a Bram
Stoker award, and his numerous short tales and articles
have been published in many magazines. In addition,
he writes some Walking
Dead novels. Narrator Paul Heitsch’s first
audiobook in 2011 was mine, THE METHUSELAH
GENE, for Crossroad Press. He also narrates
Jay’s novel THE
SLEEP POLICE, and was just nominated
for an Audie award as part of a story anthology.
Lowe: What are your favorite audiobooks of yours,
Bonansinga: I love all the versions of my books
that were done as audiobooks, including Paul Heitsch.
I especially love the Robert Forster performance
of my book THE
KILLERS GAME. This guy is pure Chicago
with his hard R's and flat vowels! Also don’t
forget Fred Berman, who does all the Walking
Paul, congrats on your nomination! Describe the
audiobook nominated, would you?
WE PERSISTED is an anthology of short
stories and poems, all exploring various themes.
I’m one of 26 narrators who were cast to record
the pieces, and am incredibly proud and humbled
by the Audie nomination for Best Original Work.
Tanya Eby, the producer, and owner of Blunderwoman
Productions, was so generous to include me on the
project, and I’m really looking forward to
thanking her in person at the Audies Gala!
Lowe: Good luck! What about The
Sleep Police was also a terrific book,
with unforgettable scenes and characters. Please
convey my thanks and best wishes to Jay Bonansinga.
STORM WARNING, Billy Graham wrote
about the Apocalypse, which certainly qualifies as
horror too. He examines the problems facing America
today compared with what is to come as revealed in
the Bible, and answers the tough questions with astute
biblical insight, and points to the hope and renewal
found in Christ—for families, the nation, and
the world. He includes an in-depth analysis of the
four horsemen of Revelation in chapter six, too. I
learned that there is a special room at his compound
called “Storm Warning,” and that on April
21, 2017 he addressed the issue of global warming
with a statement that included this: “Why should
we be concerned about the environment? It isn’t
just because of the dangers we face from pollution,
climate change, or other environmental problems—although
these are serious. For Christians, the issue is much
deeper: We know that God created the world, and it
belongs to Him, not us. Because of this, we are only
stewards or trustees of God’s creation, and
we aren’t to abuse or neglect it. The Bible
says, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything
in it, the world, and all who live in it.’ When
we fail to see the world as God’s creation,
we will end up abusing it. Selfishness and greed take
over, and we end up not caring about the environment
or the problems we’re creating for future generations.
It’s not surprising that some of the world’s
worst environmental damage was done by the old atheistic
regimes of Eastern Europe. I hope you won’t
lose your concern for these issues, for they are important.”
Christian suspense/horror novel AWAKENING STORM
is about a young man tortured by nightmares
of the Rapture, who falls under the influence of a greedy
prosperity gospel televangelist (very much unlike Graham.)
It is based on a stage play I wrote that was produced
by two Christian colleges, and includes tornadoes and
a hurricane striking the Miami beach estate of the preacher
at the climax (with a “twist,” of course!)
The novel is in ebook and paperback formats now, and
is going to audio in April, performed by ESPN
presenter and voiceover talent Barry Abrams.
He hosts IN THE GATE, a horse racing podcast on ESPN.
Since he’s going to narrate one of my own novels
soon, I figured I should interview him about what else
he’s up to. Turns out, a lot…and a few surprises,
Lowe: There is a Barry Abrams horse trainer from Belarus
who retired with throat cancer, and an article I saw
said, "he was barely audible." Like Audible.
How did you start as a Voice actor? Was it a transition
from horse race announcing? Which came first---the
voiceover egg or the jockey?
Abrams: I started doing the horse racing podcast,
“In The Gate” for 2 reasons. First, as
a marketing tool. In researching the voice-over industry,
I found that several name voice artists did podcasts
of some kind. It didn’t necessarily matter what
the topic was, as long as it was sustainable and presented
reasonably intelligently. I settled on thoroughbred
racing since I know a lot about it, and I am fortunate
that my day job employer allows me to post the shows
on their world-renowned website. The second reason
I started the show was to get built-in mic time each
week... practice. I also learned better ways to edit
my own stuff, since that is now part and parcel of
the job. I actually had the trainer, Barry Abrams,
on the podcast, but he really didn’t get the
joke. Opportunity wasted. Nice man, though. First-generation
immigrant. Hope he recovers completely.
I once interviewed Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand,
who loved the horse, as did so many at the time due
to the horse being an underdog that people in the
Great Depression identified with. What do the numbers
say about the greatest horses of all time, like Secretariat,
and what horse is your personal favorite?
In terms of numbers, Man O’War has the
longest stride of any horse ever measured - something
like 28’, a good 2-3 more than most, so he was
gaining on you just by running your speed. Secretariat
had a heart twice the size of a normal equine heart,
and a third larger than any ever previously measured.
He had a bigger engine and could pump more blood so
his muscles recovered faster. They are arguably the
two best American thoroughbreds ever, and now you
know why. My favorite, though, is a female named Rachel
Alexandra. In 2009 as a 3-year old, she beat males
3x including a Triple Crown race - the Preakness.
Her win against older males, which very rarely happens
in American racing, in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga
still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand
up. Check it out on YouTube.
The Letterman incident where he got you to repeat
the phrase "He shoots, he scores!" Were
you surprised to see him sitting there at your internship
interview at NBC?
The date was Monday, April 13th, 1990. As I reached
the spring of my first year at Syracuse University’s
Newhouse School of Communications, I went to NBC to
apply for a summer internship. Rob Burnett, still
a budding producer at that time, came into the waiting
area to announce that Letterman wanted to do a gag
where he pretended to be personnel director. We in
the waiting area were assured we would also get a
real interview afterword for the internships we wanted.
I called my mother, since I was to be home at 12:30
in order to vacuum the house for that night’s
first Passover seder. That’s why I was back
at home that day, and the internship interview made
sense to do while home. My mother didn’t know
or care about Letterman, and she said, “When
are they doing this?” “Now (10am),”
I replied. She said, "be home by 12:30pm."
Lowe: Some titles you've narrated include The
Well-Tempered City, The
Four Things That Matter Most, Watching
Smarter Baseball, Scienceblind,
vs Manning, This Narrow Space, and Destination
Earth. Mostly non-fiction. Favs?
I enjoy primarily non-fiction. Since I am a journalist
by trade, I am wired to want to learn about the actual
world around us, not necessarily a made-up world.
I mean, I enjoy a good story or a good movie as much
as anybody, but the publishers I service figured out,
without my even having to tell them, that I perform
non-fiction well. Of all the titles I have done so
far, I really enjoyed This
It is about a pediatric oncologist who moves from
New York to Israel to try to set up a pediatric palliative
care unit at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Hearing
from an American perspective about the cultural differences
between the two places was fascinating. The timing
was coincidentally perfect, also - I traveled to the
Holy Land about two weeks after completing the book,
and it all hit home for me.
Fav books you haven't narrated?
Kill a Mockingbird, Torah (Five Books
You recorded the title Vitamin N. How can listening
to audiobooks while hiking get one more attuned to
nature, with a capital N?
Vitamin N is a perfect book to which to listen
while walking around. Wear small earbuds, though -
not big cans that block out the natural sound. Walking
around while listening to Vitamin N is like talking
a guided tour of a historical location. You’ll
start to notice so many little things that your eyes
and mind would normally just pass right over. Even
though you’ll be using an electronic device
to get there, you’ll start to unplug and learn
to appreciate the simple but wonderful gifts of nature.
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