Tag Archives: Audio books

Easy listening.

I’ve always loved audio books. When I was a kid I had cassette tapes of the Star Wars Saga and the Indiana Jones stories, but also an RSC recording of Hamlet (featuring Derek Jacobi in the title role) and an unabridged copy of “Tarka the Otter”.

Being able to experience books when occupied in other tasks is wonderful. Whether it’s ironing, or running, walking the dog or driving to work, it feels like the story fills the space that would otherwise be used for worrying. (As a parent of three kids, there’s always SOMETHING to worry about)

But of course, there’s no more money in the budget for buying new audio books every week than there is for buying regular books every week. SO we signed up for Audible a couple of years ago, paying a modest monthly sum to get a “free” book each month. Generally, it’s a good deal, with the books we choose costing more than the monthly fee, so we save money each time.

But because I listen so much, I get through more than one book a month, which means I have to revisit old favourites again and again. This last month, I’ve been falling back on the novels of John Scalzi.


This is sometimes referred to as a reboot, since it’s Scalzi’s take on an existing novel – “Little Fuzzy” by H. Beam Piper. According to the introduction on the audio book (read by Scalzi himself), Scalzi was a fan of the original work, but felt it was rooted in the time it was written, and he felt the story could be re-written to reflect a more modern sensibility. I really like the story, finding the main character extremely unusual. He’s selfish and occasionally happy to lie and cheat to get what he wants, but exactly what it is that he wants isn’t always clear, even to the reader. Also, there’s a beautiful woman in the story but no romance for the main character.

Primarily, I think I like it because the underdog takes on the big money people and (spoiler alert!) wins. It’s a happy ending. It may not be wildly realistic, but it IS the way things ought to be.


A story I come back to again and again. Set in the far future, it tells the story of John Perry, a widower who has reached the age of seventy five and is therefore entitled to join the Colonial Defence Force. Much mystery surrounds the CDF, since no-one on Earth can explain why they would require old people as soldiers. Clearly, some form of technology exists to make the oldsters into useful fighting machines. John  makes a group of friends in the days following his recruitment, and they form “The Old Farts”, sticking together through their first weeks, then staying in touch once trained and deployed. The fates of the members of the group serve to show the ferocity of the war Mankind is engaged in, and the sometimes arbitrary nature of the Grim Reaper.

However, this book always reminds me of one of my other favourite audio books “Going Postal” by Terry Pratchett, because, like Moist Von Lipwig in that book, John Perry applies his brain and will power to his situation and improves it. He thinks, he learns and he applies those lessons, and his experience and it helps him AND the people around him.

“Old Man’s War” is the first in a series of novels about the CDF and the war between Mankind and the alien races arrayed against them. There are also rumours that a movie is grinding its way through the Hollywood machine.


This is the book that prompted today’s post. Years ago I wrote “Strange New Worlds”, my own silly sketch about the inevitable death of the Security Guy on the alien planet. Scalzi’s take on the Redshirt is much more complex, because his guys discover that the reason the death rate for redshirts on their ship is so high is because a sub-par Sci-Fi TV show from our era is intruding on their reality. When their senior officers are seized by “The Narrative” they can make odd decisions, and unlikely events occur, almost always resulting in death for some lowly crewman. A hardy crew of friends kidnap a bridge officer (because that way, their shuttle won’t explode – main characters don’t die!) and fly through a black hole (physics gets suspended when a main character is involved) to time travel back to our time and persuade the TV show makers to stop killing off characters for dramatic effect.

It’s a more cerebral piece than I expected, but the characters are fresh and interesting, and there are three codas added to the end of the book. Though the actual story is finished, these three pieces do add to the overall tale. I found the last two (“Second Person and Third Person” ) particularly affecting. And the fact that they’re written in the first person, second person and third person is a nifty piece of writing craft in itself.


I would not hesitate to recommend any of the above books to you. My only caveat would be that some people find one aspect of Scalzi’s writing to be an irritant, especially in “Fuzzy Nation” – he uses “said” a lot. It may be the way Wil Wheaton reads it, or it may be the construction of the book, but it IS noticeable, particularly now I’ve mentioned it and you’ll be listening for it. Sorry.

Sounds Wonderful

Audible logo

I’m a reader. Always have been, always will be. I read at night and at the breakfast table, on my breaks at work, and while I’m waiting for Middle Weasel to finish Ringette practice.

But there are some times when it’s not practical to have your nose in a book. When I go running, I’ve found that reading is a hazard to those around me, as well as myself. When I’m ironing, it’s tricky to manage the iron, the garment and the book. Tasks like cleaning the bathroom floor become very tricky.

So it was that a few years ago I became a member of Audible.com. I’d amassed a reasonable collection of audio books on cds, but switching them back and forth between the car and the household cd players had resulted in scratches and lost discs. I was looking for a better solution. Audible have a big range of audio books, and their app can be downloaded to phones, pcs, and tablets. I have it installed on my phone, on my desktop, my kindle and my netbook. I pay a membership fee each month, which entitles me to one free book each month.

The mathematicians out there will be pointing out that my book is not, ACTUALLY free, because I’m paying my monthly membership. And that’s true, but the membership is a flat rate, and it’s often less than the regular price of the book I choose to purchase. Along with that, there are special offers available to members that turn up often, like $4.99 deals, or “Buy one, get one free” offers.

My app told me yesterday that I now have 61 books in my library, which made me think about my most recent acquisitions. There were two books that I bought and listened to quite compulsively. Normally, as I’ve said, the books are background to a dull task, but these two were so engrossing that I used my phone as a portable sound system and listened to them as I walked the dog, drove to work and did the shopping.

File:Anansi Boys.png

The first was a book I had read years before. Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys“, read here by Lenny Henry. (Find the book on Amazon HERE ) In my memory, it had taken on the sinister tone of “American Gods”, a book I’d read much more recently. When it came up on Audible, I began to listen and suddenly remembered how much I had enjoyed it. It was FUNNY! The story has serious moments, even some gruesome ones, but the telling is delightful, the characters far out of the usual way, and Lenny Henry achieves the miraculous in delivering believable voices for people who range from young women to middle aged men to ancient crones. The magic in the story fits well into London and Saint Andrews, and best of all, the ending is more than satisfactory (I have a deep-rooted distrust of ambiguous or downbeat endings).

Wool | [Hugh Howey]

This, then, was a book I knew once but had forgotten. But a recent offer gave me the chance to try a book I had heard about, but never read. Hugh Howey’s “Wool” had sparked a lot of interest because it began life as a self-published short story, then pressure from friends and readers brought about the novel, which sold so well online that it became a “real” book, then a NYT bestseller. I had resisted getting a copy, because, frankly, it sounded dull. “Wool” as a title made me imagine it was about the wool trade. I’m sure you could write a “Sarum” style history of the wool trade in Europe, and have exciting characters and helicopter chases and so on. I’m sure reviewers would have to work quite hard not to use the phrase “Spins a yarn” when writing about it.

Luckily for everyone, this is NOT what the book is about. “Wool” is actually about the inhabitants of a Silo. They have lived in the silo for generations, knowing that the air outside is toxic, and that talk of wanting to leave, or criticising the silo can get the expelled, forced to clean the sensors that provide the only view of the grim world beyond. Life in the silo is sparse, but bearable. The story begins with the Sheriff, who has served many years, suddenly expressing his desire to go outside. His wife went mad three years before and was sent outside, and now he wishes to go after her, even though her body is clearly visible through the sensors, slumped dead on a nearby hill.

This sounds gloomy, and the truth is that the story IS grim. There are many secrets and conspiracies in the silo, and the good people who rise to the challenge brought about by the Sheriff’s decision don’t always come out of things well. At times I was worried that a bad ending would mean I had listened to the whole story only to be disappointed. However, despite the tension and the grim nature of the events, I think the story ended well, and I’ve since discovered there are sequels – this is the first of a trilogy, but it works well as a standalone tale.

Thanks to audible, I have a great library of stories, read to me by some terrific narrators. The fact that the company is now a subsidiary of Amazon may put some people off, but I don’t mind – Amazon publish my e-books, after all. It also means that I never forget my Audible login, as it’s the same as my Amazon one these days. For someone who hates to be without a book, it’s a great alternative.

I have not been paid by Audible or Amazon for this piece. Although, you know, if they DID decide to pay me a bunch of cash, I wouldn’t say no….