September 25, 2018

In Which Wonderduck Complains About Audiobooks

As the three Pond Scum members remaining will recall, I work in a job that allows me... nay, friggin' requires me... to have something to distract my brain from the repetitive task I perform for 9-12 hours/day.  Music was a good way to start but even with over 500 songs on the mp3 player, you start to hear the same songs over and over again.


This is not helped when the mp3 player in question loses its place when you have it on "random" and you press pause to go use the little ducks' room.  Further, it's almost like the memory has a groove worn in it, because it seems to go back to the same songs repeatedly.  The bad thing is, it's not the same songs every time.  Today it might be this, that and the other... but tomorrow it'll be penguin, ocelot, and serval.  So I can't even count on that.  No complaints, but it does get a bit tedious.

So the next step was audiobooks.  These have proven to be a mixed bag.  On the plus side, some of them are long enough to last me a whole week of work.  On the minus, dear god have these people never performed before?  I can count on the fingers of one had just how many audiobooks I've listened to that do a good job on actually understanding what the author wrote.  Just as an example of what I'm talking about, a few months back I listened to the audiobook of Starship Troopers.

Now, this is my favorite Heinlein novel, which means it's on the very short list of my favorite books.  I cannot say how many times I've read it over the past 40 years... if you told me 100, I wouldn't be surprised.  I know this book inside and out, is what I'm trying to tell you.  It is at least theoretically possible that the man who did the audio reading had read the book before.  I wouldn't put any money on it, but it's possible.  Anybody who can read the line "C'mon you apes, do you want to live forever?" and make it sound like an actual question simply doesn't have a grasp on the subject material.  And speaking of grasping, what they did to The Mote In God's Eye and the sequel, The Gripping Hand, is simply criminal.  The reader does do a good job of differentiating voices, so points for that.  Unfortunately, his interpretation makes it sound like everybody in the cast hates everybody else.  Captain Roderick Blaine's relationship with his navigator, Kevin Renner, is completely and totally antagonistic, full of snarling and gnashing of teeth.  Which is weird, because when I read it Renner was a much more lighthearted rogue trader, and Blaine the Navy captain/aristocrat that puts up with him.  I'm fairly sure the reader took his cue from one line: "Blaine decided that he didn't like his navigator."  If true, he blew it completely.

It's amazing just how common this is.  Almost completely forgot the most egregious example: Robert Asprin's Phule's Company!  If you've read it, you know it's a comedy novel.  It's supposed to be funny.  Somehow, the reader turned Willard Phule, aka Captain Jester, into a typical military man.  Sorta puts a damper on the whole rest of the novel, y'know?

That's not to say they're all bad.  I had cause recently to hear The Rise And Fall Of  D.O.D.O., by Neil Stephenson and Nicole Galland, and it's a terrific listen.  There's at least six different people doing different voices, which is pretty much a requirement for the book... in print form, it's made up of journal entries, computer logs, audio transcripts, etc etc etc, all of which look different from each other.  So, in audiobook form, different voices for each character's individual entries.  To be sure, if Tristan (our hero) shows up in Melisande's (our heroine/main character) entry, the woman who reads Melisande's stuff will differentiate for Tristan, it's not the person who reads Tristan's entries.  Still, it works, and it's a hoot.  Ditto for Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens.  

But the best audiobook I've yet listened to is the classic With The Old Breed by Eugene Sledge.  Unlike, I think, most other audiobooks, this one is actually read by someone who did research and knew the book inside and out.  Which makes sense since Joe Mazzello, the man who played Sledge in the amazing HBO miniseries The Pacific, is the reader.  It's a gruesome book, but that's good; it was originally written just for Sledge's family, so they knew what grandpa did in the War.  It pulls no punches, and Mazzello brings it to life in a way no other audiobook I've listened to has managed.  

More like that, please and thank you Audiobook companies.  Get people who know the books to read 'em, huh?

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:32 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
Post contains 814 words, total size 6 kb.

1 LibriVox has, for free, Jane Austen books read by a lady named Karen Savage. She does a brilliant job. Gives all the characters their own voices and really brings out the humor. 

I think we've mentioned the Harry Dresden audio books here before? They are supposed to be good. They are read by an actor who played Harry in the short-lived SciFi* Channel show. 

*No. 

Posted by: Mrs. Will (Kathryn) at September 26, 2018 09:40 AM (qvXlK)

2 I wish I could do audiobooks, I really do, but... no. I can't handle being "read to." Something in my brain just rebels.

Posted by: Karel P Kerezman at September 26, 2018 01:00 PM (dPlYR)

3

The issues with audiobooks often are the same with dubs - the quality depends on how good whoever is giving instructions to the person recording it, and on the budget for the production (More budgets allow more takes.).

There is also the possibility that whoever is recording a book might not care too much about what they are reading and decided to have their own 'interpretation' on it.  There is at least one person involved in audiobooks who has, off the recording, admitted to doing that occasionally.

I do like the audiobooks when they have a cast recording it, instead of just on person.  It feels very much like a radio play - I remember listening to audiobooks of Clive Cussler's Deep Six and Cyclops years ago, along with a non-fiction book about the Walker-Whitworth espionage case.

Posted by: cxt217 at September 26, 2018 05:51 PM (EGo5e)

4 Does the local library have audio books on CD or other media that you can download to your device? 

Posted by: jon spencer at September 26, 2018 07:48 PM (6SO50)

5 Jon, probably... but I can count the number of times I've been in a public library the past 15 years or so on the fingers of one wing.  And even then, it was to visit The Librarian, not to check out books. 

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 26, 2018 09:24 PM (8i+JN)

6 The audiobooks for Wiseguy and Casino are both excellent; except that they're abridged editions edited to follow their movie adaptations. Which also makes them short. Still very well performed, though.

Poor reading: I'm a big Jack Chalker fan, and I picked up all of his Flux and Anchor books on audio a couple of years ago. AWFUL. The guy reading them (all of them) speaks as if he's reading abridged Disney-fied fairytales to five-year-olds. Like in the hundreds of story collections Disney published back in the 60's and 70's. His voice has that sparkling delight and touch of humor designed for delivering Mother Goose to pre-schoolers.

If you've ever read Chalker, and specifically the Flux and Anchor books, they're loaded with body horror, depictions of corrupt, empowered bureaucrats abusing their powers, commentary on governmental extremes, and EXPLICIT SEX.

It is such a complete failure on tone, it's unlistenable.

Posted by: Ben at September 27, 2018 12:49 AM (4TRZx)

7 It's certainly a mixed bag. 

The series I can recommend are Terry Pratchett's Discworld books (read by Nigel Planer for the first half of the series, then Stephen Briggs), Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan and Chalion books (mostly read by Grover Gardner, except for those with a female lead character), and Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books, read by Bernard Setaro Clark).

They're all good books with consistently good readings.


One other thing that might be of interest is the Dragnet collection available from Audible.  I don't have it yet myself, but 379 episodes for 1 credit is kind of tempting.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at September 28, 2018 05:17 AM (2yngH)

8 Mrs. Will - The Dresden Files books are read by James Marsters (Spike from Buffy).  The actor in the TV series (which I liked a lot) was Paul Blackthorne.
 
Something about Marsters' performance doesn't sit right with me, but I'll give them another try.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at September 28, 2018 05:20 AM (2yngH)

9 FWIW, I talk about the Dresden audiobooks here...  I stopped after the third one.  Harry's outlook on life was seriously depressing.

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 28, 2018 06:53 AM (8i+JN)

10

Interesting sidenot about James Marsters.  IIRC, commentator Knirirr at Hell in a Handbasket commented that Marsters' accent as Spike was the closest he had ever heard an American properly do an English accent - so much so that he had to double-check to make sure Marsters was not English.

The audiobooks of the Monogatari novels are interesting because they used several different VAs to perform the characters from the books, which is not often the case.  Maybe they will actually not drive me to distraction compare to reading the actual light novels.

Posted by: cxt217 at September 28, 2018 05:30 PM (EGo5e)

11 Larry Correia's works are read by either Adam Baldwin or Bronson Pinchot. They are both reputed to be very good.

Posted by: Mauser at September 28, 2018 07:32 PM (Ix1l6)

12 "The audiobooks of the Monogatari novels..."
CXT, there's more than one now?  Hmm.  I might need to look into that.

Posted by: Wonderduck at September 28, 2018 09:01 PM (8i+JN)

13 No, that was my mistake.  I did think they had recorded more than Kizumonogatari, but it appears not.

Posted by: cxt217 at September 28, 2018 10:31 PM (EGo5e)

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