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Vox: SF For Your Ears
by Scott Danielson

Other Vox: SF For Your Ears Columns

Audio Drama
Giant Steps: An Apocalyptic Comedy for the World Wide Web
Mark Time Award
Seeing Ear Theater
Wollcott and Sheridan
Audio Publishers
Atlanta Radio Theater Company
Books on Tape
Defiance Audio
Fantastic Audio
Full Cast Audio Books
The Reader's Chair
Recorded Books, LLC
Star Trek Novels/Audio
Star Wars Novels/Audio
Timberwolf Press
SF Talk Radio
Book Crazy Radio
Cosmic Landscapes
The Dragon Page
Hour 25
Reality Break - a science fiction talk show
Sci Fi Overdrive
SF On the Radio
The Teaching Company
Timeship Studio
Voyage's Multimedia Project

I avoid abridgments. I realize that, as the author of a monthly column on audio books, I shouldn't just discard abridgments because they are abridgments. I shouldn't care how long the audio is, as long as it's done well.

Many times at the bookstore, however, I've been excited to find something on audio that I was hoping I could find on audio, only to see that it's been abridged to a three-hour length. With a sigh, it goes back on the shelf, nearly every time.

And the reason it goes back on the shelf is because of experience. If an abridged audio is not done well, then I'm in for a frustrating experience; rewinding often to find out "what I missed" only to find out that "what I missed" isn't even there. Varying degrees of this frustration is what I experience more often than not with abridgments.

Vitals Which brings me to Random House Audio's Vitals by Greg Bear. This audio is abridged, 5.5 hours in length, read by Jeff Woodman. (It's good news that abridgments are increasing in length. Six-hour abridgments are becoming standard, which is much better than three.)

Jeff Woodman does a very good job reading the story of Hal Cousins, a microbiologist whose twin brother (also a microbiologist) has gotten himself involved with some shady people while researching DNA in an effort to increase longevity. Hal himself is quickly swept up in it when his brother disappears.

I found Vitals very interesting and engaging through the first cassette, but then the story got confusing and rapid, then screeched to a halt to explain some science, then off it ran again. Several times, I needed to rewind after something that I'd misunderstood.

The audio did whet my appetite -- what the heck was all that about? Someday I'll read the novel to find out what Greg Bear was trying to say, because I'm afraid I missed it here.

Now, I'm not saying that all abridged audios are doomed to failure. In a past column, I pointed out that I enjoy Simon and Schuster's Star Trek titles very much, and they are nearly all abridged to a three-hour length. They are excellent examples of audio done well; excellent readers enhanced with effective sound and music.

So, perhaps only some books can successfully withstand abridgment, the same way that only some books translate successfully into a two-hour film.

Cryptonomicon Fantastic Audio recently published Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon in "Unabridged Excerpts". It's nine hours in length and is read by Scott Brick.

Now, Cryptonomicon is a huge book. Nearly 1000 pages. That would make one heck of a long audio book in an unabridged version, but how can an audio be made of this without affecting the unique quality of Stephenson's writing? Unabridged excerpts is the answer.

The audio is done well; what Scott Brick brilliantly performs is what Neal Stephenson brilliantly wrote. The parts that are skipped are summarized for the listener by a different performer in-between chapters. The book flits between three different points of view; that of Lawrence Waterhouse (a mathematician/cryptologist during World War II), that of Bobby Shaftoe (a marine, also in World War II), and that of Randy (grandson of Lawrence and a computer genius in present day), who meets up with Amy (granddaughter of Billy).

I found this method fabulously effective, and I hope to see much more of this in the future. In the early days of audio, I recall Caedmon publishing audio this way; specifically I remember Arthur C. Clarke reading excerpts of 2001, and Frank Herbert doing the same with Dune.

Would this method work with every book out there? No, I suppose not, but I find that I do prefer this to abridgment.


In November of 2001, Frank Muller, one of the audio industry's greatest performers, was in a serious motorcycle accident. He sustained brain injury, the extents of which are still not clear.

Legends My favorite Frank Muller recordings include George R.R. Martin's The Hedge Knight, as well as many of Stephen King's novels, including the Dark Tower series. His performances are beyond compare.

On February 2nd, 2002, at the Town Hall (123 West 43rd St.) in New York City, Stephen King will join three renowned authors to celebrate the work of Frank Muller. The performance begins at 8:00 p.m. and features readings and talks by Stephen King, Pat Conroy, John Grisham, and Peter Straub. A book signing at Town Hall will follow the performance. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Frank Muller Fund, part of the newly formed Wavedancer Foundation.

For those interested, all contributions are fully tax-deductible. Checks can be made payable to The Wavedancer Foundation (memo: The Frank Muller Fund) and should be sent to:
The Wavedancer Foundation
c/o John McElroy
44 Kane Avenue
Larchmont, NY 10538

All my best to Mr. Muller and his family.

Copyright © 2002 Scott Danielson

Scott discovered the world of SF audio years ago, when he spent two hours a day in his car. His commute has since shortened considerably, but his love for audio remains.

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