Audible SF/F NOTE: moved to The AudioBookaneers

When I started “The Audible SF/F Blog” in June 2011, I was hoping that the double meaning of “audible”, that is both the well-known audiobook company and the state of being, er, audible, which is so very characteristic of audiobooks, wouldn’t create TOO much confusion. While the first words of the site description are “completely unaffiliated”, when people look only at the short name, whether on Twitter @AudibleSFF or Facebook, or wherever, it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t a good idea.

So: a new name! I’ve been toying around with a few possibilities for the better part of a year, but it’s been actually fairly hard to find something that is available on both Facebook and Twitter, and also isn’t someone’s well-established pseudonym out there. And which both I and Dave (Thompson) both like.

But late last week, Dave sent me: “The AudioBookaneers”. Yes. That’s it. That’s the name we’ve been waiting on: Dave and I are now The AudioBookaneers, sailing the seven seas of audiobooks in search of treasure and monsters.

Along with the name change (Twitter and Facebook, done) it was also a good time to make one more move, to a blog set up for multiple contributors. Tumblr does have a few things in that area, but only for “secondary” blogs, not for this “primary” one, and there wasn’t any way to move this one to being a secondary one. So the new site is on Wordpress, which also hosts Bull Spec, and so I’ll only have to remember how to use one blogging platform, at least for a little while.

So, this is pretty much the last bit of new blog-like content here on the now “old” Tumblr site of “The Audible SF/F Blog”. I’ll post a few reminders through early next year that “hey, we moved!” but, for now: Hey, we moved! I hope you’ll come follow along on our continuing audiobook adventures, and: stay tuned pretty soon for info on something we’re calling “The Arrrrrrrrrrrdies”, our version of year-end audiobook awards for our listening year. (Some of those “rrr”s may be redacted. Or not…)

-Sam and Dave, The AudioBookaneers

Received: I finally put in some fall requests a couple weeks ago, and Brilliance Audio took me pretty seriously to the tune of 5 titles. Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson, read by Neil Peart; The Mongoliad Book 2 by Neal Stephenson et al, read by Luke Daniels; The White Forest by Adam McOmber; Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, read by Ralph Lister; and Night Watch.

Received: I finally put in some fall requests a couple weeks ago, and Brilliance Audio took me pretty seriously to the tune of 5 titles. Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson, read by Neil Peart; The Mongoliad Book 2 by Neal Stephenson et al, read by Luke Daniels; The White Forest by Adam McOmber; Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, read by Ralph Lister; and Night Watch.

[Editor’s note: “All Hallow’s Listen” will be a 3-part series this October, featuring Dave Thompson’s reviews on Halloween-suitable audiobooks. Stay tuned each Friday!]

The Halloween Tree By Ray Bradbury
Narrated by Bronson Pinchot for Blackstone Audio
Length:
3 hrs and 11 mins
Release Date:
07-25-11

Review by Dave Thompson: All Hallow’s Listen #1: An October Essential

If you’re looking for a fun story to listen to this Halloween, look no further. Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree is about as essential to October as Linus and the Great Pumpkin. After listening to it, I’m kind of surprised there isn’t a stop motion film from Henry Selick in the works yet. [MORE]

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Downpour is a new multi-publisher DRM-free digital audiobook (and physical audiobook) website and iOS app launched by Blackstone Audio, with titles from Recorded Books, Hachette Audio, and more. The site is a bit slow at times (note: it is still in Beta) but it is certainly usable, though a link here and there is wonky (when browsing Science Fiction titles, which are by default and always by default sorted by title, try clicking to sort by release date and you’ll instead get the page for Captain’s Blood by William Shatner). Overall it is set up quite a lot like Audible.com, with a-la-carte purchases of digital downloads and monthly “credit” based plans, and the addition of physical audiobook listings.

The iOS app misses some of the higher-end functionality (swipe control mode, listening badges) and some miscellaneous features (bookmarks, annotations, etc.) but for what I need it to do (download, play, and delete, and on rare occasions listen at 1.5x speed) it just works. Playback continues in background mode (when I am multi-tasking or with the screen off or locked — and the Downpour app does set the lock screen to the book cover, which I like) and responds to most handset controls (play/pause, forward double-click, and back triple-click) but not to fast-forward (hold on second click) or fast-reverse (hold on third click) for seeking through the audiobook. I very rarely use any of these missing features, and so I’ve started using the app (and site) for a growing share of my audiobook purchasing and listening. I’d only recently started using Audible’s “bookmark” feature to mark the position I start listening to before falling asleep, to help assist in “now where did I leave off…” playback position recovery in the morning, so that might be another one I’d look at — fast-forward and fast-reverse are also mainly ones I use for “now where did I leave off…” questions. I do find myself missing the “go back 30 seconds” feature from the Audible app, though, so that might be one for the Downpour engineers to poke on. Update: There is both a “go back 30 seconds” and “go forward 30 seconds” gesture, see the Disqus comments below.

The app remembers playback position across sessions — closing the app and re-opening it, my listening position is restored.  It also remembers playback positions across multiple audiobooks. (Without these two features, and the background mode and handset controls mentioned above, I wouldn’t be using it.) Unlike the built-in iOS music player, but like the Audible app, the Downpour app does not resume playback automatically after a phone call ends. One small issue is that after closing the app, re-launching it returns me to the bookshelf rather than the last played book automatically. Another nitpick in checking out the Downpour app’s feature set was that on-screen display settings (whether to show the position slider and speed control) were not saved across sessions. (Another is that selecting a different audiobook from the Downpour app library stops playback of the currently playing audiobook, but doesn’t automatically start playback of the newly selected audiobook, though I haven’t decided whether I like this latter “feature” or not.)

App wishlist, first thoughts: First, see the “go back 30 seconds” feature above. Second, though this is a bit random, I would very much like to use this app to play my own library of MP3-CD audiobooks, transferred to my phone. (The iOS music player’s lack of remembering playback position in a playlist or album makes MP3-CD playlist listening so frustrating that using Chapter and Verse to build an M4B is right on the edge of worth the effort.) I’m not sure yet about downloading the entire audiobook in one part — for longer audiobooks, being able to download one 8-hour part at a time (as Audible breaks audiobooks “into parts to make the download faster”, don’t ya know) makes space management on my phone (always full of pictures) more, er, manageable. But then frustrating when I’m ready for the next part and no-where near a WiFi connection. So, maybe that’s six of one and a half-dozen of the other.

Anyway. Why am I, a 11.5-year Audible customer shopping around for apps? I took a look at Tantor’s app late last year or early this year, but it wasn’t nearly ready for prime time. (I haven’t checked it out since, and it appears to have been discontinued.) The main reason is that the audiobooks I buy from Downpour are DRM-free, and there was an app to try out, and after using it a bit, I found that it worked well enough to use. (Simply Audiobooks and others have DRM-free audiobooks, but no apps. It looks like there’s a very recent thread about someone building an app for eMusic, but nothing concrete to check out yet.)

The main drawback is that while Downpour doesn’t appear to have any titles which Audible doesn’t have, it doesn’t have many titles which Audible does have — including the long list of excellent titles from Audible Frontiers and Audible Inc. and Neil Gaiman Presents and Brilliance Audio and other Amazon-owned imprints, which it seems unlikely will ever be available at Downpour. But, while I’ll still be using Audible for titles I can’t get elsewhere, I’m making the switch now for the purchases where I can get a DRM-free audiobook. Now to wait for book 2 of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations to show up (books 1 and 3 are available) along with Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Deada, nd Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper’s Building Harlequin’s Moon…and hey, since this is DRM-free, where is my Cory Doctorow library?

Further notes: A random wishlist for the future of Downpour:

  • more royalties to audiobook creators than the Audible/ACX default 25% — I have no idea on the current terms or how to publish on Downpour, which leads to:
  • an ACX-style audiobook creation exchange and publishing portal which lets creators keep more of their rights and more of their sales
  • affiliate relationships with the IndieBound bookstores, similar to the Kobo ebook net revenue split, and while I’m at it:
  • finish up that in-progress Android app, so Downpour will work on the Kobo tablet among other devices
  • bring on more publishers, like Iambik, Crossroad Press, Buzzy Multimedia, Tantor, Dreamscape, AudioGO, …
  • maybe: integrate with Goodreads to display reviews, add “to read”, etc. (It appears Downpour does allow reviews by visitors who have not purchased the audiobook they are reviewing, but there are scant reviews and ratings so far.)
  • a coming soon section where I can add the titles to my wishlist and be notified when they are published
  • let me add authors to a list and be notified when new audiobooks are published

While I’m all “pie in the sky” dreaming:

  • split Blackstone and Downpour — vertical towers are bad
  • even more pie in the sky than that: split Downpour.com and the app — or at minimum open source the Android app, or manage some kind of community source project (goal: allow me to point the app at my Tantor library)
  • provide a lightweight mobile website for browsing, adding to wishlist, etc.
  • maybe: enter the libraries market to provide some competition for Overdrive
  • not a problem now, while I only have a few titles, but when/if I get to hundreds I will need better library management both online and in the app
  • integrate with Kobo for a “Whisperlink for Voice” and “Immersion Reading” experience (probably there are patents in the way for that)

What the second release week in October lacks in the staggering numbers department, it makes up for with three absolutely stellar titles: urban fantasy from Tad Williams, the latest Iain M. Banks “Culture” novel, and the long-awaited first audio installment of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen epic fantasy series. And! The long-awaited digital audio release of the Rob Inglis narrations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I’ve bemoaned the US audiobook absence of The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Bobby Dollar, Book 1 By Tad Williams for quite a few release weeks now, but this week brings a Penguin Audio production of George Newbern's narration: “You’ve never met an angel like Bobby Dollar. … Brace yourself - the afterlife is weirder than you ever believed.”

 

Last Wednesday saw the the long-awaited first audiobook in The Malazan Book of the Fallen epic fantasy series: Gardens of the Moon: The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 1 By Steven Erikson, Narrated by Ralph Lister for Brilliance Audio. Is it post-modern epic fantasy? Post-structural epic fantasy? That’s a debate for brighter minds than mine, but this 1999 novel heralded a many-layered tapestry of characters and storylines: “The Malazan Empire simmers with discontent, bled dry by interminable warfare, bitter infighting, and bloody confrontations with ancient and implacable sorcerers. Even the imperial legions, long inured to the bloodshed, yearn for some respite. Yet Empress Laseen’s rule remains absolute, enforced by her dreaded Claw assassins. For Sergeant Whiskeyjack and his squad of Bridgeburners, and for Tattersail, their lone surviving mage, the aftermath of the siege of Pale should have been a time to mourn the many dead. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities, yet holds out. It is to this ancient citadel that Laseen turns her predatory gaze.”

The Hydrogen Sonata By Iain M. Banks, Narrated by Peter Kenny for Hachette Audio, continues the “Culture” series: “The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, provably, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization. An ancient people, organized on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture 10,000 years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they’ve made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations; they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.”

 

Lastly, the 1999-91 Rob Inglis narrations for Recorded Books of J. R. R. Tolkien's beloved The Lord of the Rings series are finally in digital audio download. I still have — and enjoy re-listening to — Martin Shaw’s narration of The Hobbit, but have heard quite a few compliments on the Inglis recordings which are all — all of them — quickly establishing themselves at the top of the Audible bestseller charts.

ALSO OUT TUESDAY:

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Via author Cory Doctorow’s blog, he is selling direct, EULA- and DRM-free downloads of his latest audiobook, Pirate Cinema (Listening Library, read by Bruce Mann), from his own website. It’s also available DRM-free from Simply Audiobooks, eMusic, BooksOnBoard, and Barnes & Noble (probably among others), but this is the first I can remember seeing a publisher-published audiobook being sold directly in this manner. (I have purchased some of his previous audiobooks DRM-free from some of the above stores, and anyone who follow’s Doctorow’s writings knows that being DRM-free is nothing new. But this is an interesting new development.)

Well, I tried. I put together an interstitial release week post on Friday. Then again Monday morning. And still what’s left in this week’s haul is more than enough to keep all the listening hours in a year occupied. So, since we can’t listen to everything, here are my picks for the week. Since Monday. Luckily, several of them are short. And one of them is even free. However… there are a lot of picks. And this is mostly just from Tuesday.

I’ve been looking forward to Ironskin By Tina Connolly since late last year; it was one of my most-anticipated titles of 2012 in my “too big to be useful” preview of the year. Then I learned it was to be narrated by Roslyn Landor, whose narration of Joan Slonczewski's A Door into Ocean is up there with my all-time favorites, and my anticipation level, if possible, went even higher. Well, now it’s here, in print and ebook from Tor and in a 9 hrs and 33 mins audiobook from Audible Frontiers: “Jane Eliot wears an iron mask. It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin. When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a “delicate situation”—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help. Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her scars and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio…and come out as beautiful as the fey. Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things are true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of a new life—and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.”

 

Speaking of anticipated audiobooks, and my favorite narrators, Oliver Wyman (Finch, Gateway, Logan’s Run, on and on and on) narrates Brandon Sanderson's novella Legion, which was published about two months ago in print from Subterranean Press and ebook by Sanderson’s own Dragonsteel Entertainment. And now here is the 2 hour Audible Frontiers audiobook which iseven  (for a limited time) free: “Brandon Sanderson is one of the most significant fantasists to enter the field in a good many years. His ambitious, multi-volume epics (Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive) and his stellar continuation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series have earned both critical acclaim and a substantial popular following. In Legion, a distinctly contemporary novella filled with suspense, humor, and an endless flow of invention, Sanderson reveals a startling new facet of his singular narrative talent. Stephen Leeds, AKA ‘Legion,’ is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the story begins, Leeds and his ‘aspects’ are drawn into the search for the missing Balubal Razon, inventor of a camera whose astonishing properties could alter our understanding of human history and change the very structure of society. The action ranges from the familiar environs of America to the ancient, divided city of Jerusalem. Along the way, Sanderson touches on a formidable assortment of complex questions: the nature of time, the mysteries of the human mind, the potential uses of technology, and the volatile connection between politics and faith. Resonant, intelligent, and thoroughly absorbing, Legion is a provocative entertainment from a writer of great originality and seemingly limitless gifts.” Any audiobook which begins with Wyman saying “My name is …” is a keeper — that’s how Pohl’s Gateway begins, as does Sanderson’sLegion.

Under Mysteries/Thrillers and Fiction, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel By Robin Sloan, Narrated by Ari Fliakos for Macmillan Audio. At a bit under 8 hours: “A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life - mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.”

 

Under Fiction, This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It By David Wong returns us to the twisted — some say cracked — mind behind John Dies in the End. Narrated by Nick Podehl for Brilliance Audio at 14 hrs and 54 mins: “Warning: You may have a huge, invisible spider living in your skull. This is not a metaphor.”

A long-awaited audiobook indeed is Building Harlequin’s Moon (2005) By Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper, one of my favorite science fiction novels of the 2000s combining Niven’s hard sf edge on terraforming and solar kites with Cooper’s human characters. Now in audio, narrated by Tom Weiner for Blackstone Audio at 15 hrs and 27 mins: “The first interstellar ship, John Glenn, fled a solar system populated by rogue AIs and machine/human hybrids, threatened by too much nanotechnology, and rife with political dangers. The John Glenn’s crew intended to terraform the nearly pristine planet Ymir in hopes of creating a utopian society that will limit intelligent technology, but by some miscalculation they have landed in the wrong system. Short on the antimatter needed to continue to Ymir, they must shape nearby planet Harlequin’s moon, Selene, into a new, temporary home and rebuild their store of antimatter through decades of terraforming.”

 

Lastly, young readers (and older ones) can rejoice as we get to return to the world of Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making as book two, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is out today as well. Book one was voiced by the author, here book two is read by S. J. Tucker for Brilliance Audio at 8 hrs and 18 mins: “September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows - and their magic - to the world of Fairyland-Below. This world has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween has no intentions of giving Fairyland’s shadows back.”

ALSO OUT TUESDAY:

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After ending a run of eight audiobooks in my June listening with the amazing The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I listened to seven audiobooks in August, with Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft of Swords, Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook, and G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen being the outstanding listens.

  

  

REVIEWS:

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Goodness. I put together a Friday “interlude” release week post, and then on Saturday 11 Dave Duncan audiobooks show up, all from Audible Frontiers:

Whew. Quite a week, and it’s not yet Monday, let alone Tuesday.

Received: Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, read by Joshilyn Jackson for Macmillan Audio.

Received: Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer, read by Joshilyn Jackson for Macmillan Audio.