Saturday, August 27, 2011

"A Very Strange Trip" by L. Ron Hubbard & Dave Wolverton

"A Very Strange Trip"
by L. Ron Hubbard & Dave Wolverton
Multicast performance
Produced by Galaxy Audio
Approx 6 hours

To start things out, I've gotta say this was one of the funniest sci-fi romps through time I've read. If you like time travelling adventures with some humor thrown in, check out this audiobook. But before I talk about the story I think it's best to talk about the story behind the story.

The original book was an unfinished story by L. Ron Hubbard and being a winner of Hubbard's "Writers of the Future," Dave Wolverton was asked to finish the story. Dave Wolverton began writing during college and entered short stories into various contests, but his career kicked off in 1987 when he won the top award in the L. Ron Hubbard "Writers of the Future" contest.

Writers of the Future (WOTF) is a science fiction and fantasy story contest that was originated by L. Ron Hubbard in the early 1980s. Hubbard characterized the contest as a way of "giving back" to the field that had defined his professional writing life. The contest has no entry fee and is the highest-paying contest for amateur science-fiction and fantasy writers. Other notable past winners of WOTF include Stephen Baxter, Karen Joy Fowler, James Alan Gardner, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Jay Lake, Michael H. Payne, Patrick Rothfuss, Robert Reed, Dean Wesley Smith, Sean Williams, Nancy Farmer, and David Zindell. The winning stories are published in the yearly anthology " L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of Future." The contest enjoys a favorable reputation in the science fiction community, For twenty-five years, L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future Contest has discovered and nurtured a steady stream of new authors who have changed the face of SF. Chosen by an impressive panel of judges drawn from the biggest names in the genre, taught at a remarkable week-long workshop, and celebrated at world-class venues such as the Kennedy Space Center, the United Nations and the Science Fiction Museum, Contest winners are given the best possible foundation for a long-standing writing career. Recently Galaxy Press has released a retrospective book, "Writers of the Future, the First 25 Years," that is filled with more than a thousand spectacular images, interspersed with over one hundred success stories and testimonials, this book celebrates the first quarter century of Writers of the Future, this is the perfect coffee table book for any sci-fi fan.

Other awards Dave Wolverton has been nominated for include the Nebula Award in the Best Novellette category for his short story "After a Lean Winter". He has also been nominated for a Hugo Award. In the summer of 1998 Dave Wolverton broke the world record for the most book signings in one sitting, which he achieved with "A Very Strange Trip."

When this novel was released in 1998, it received some negative feedback due to its simplicity, but that is one of the things that I feel makes this book fun. No matter what, though, the audio version produced by Galaxy Audio is a terrific romp through time with some great vocal actors and sound effects so realistic you will actually feel like you are in the middle of a mastodon stampede. There is a full cast and each of the vocal actors portray their parts with the same over the top vigor that makes for one of Hubbard's typical comedic stories. The sound effects are superb, in fact there was a moment in the book where the time machine lands its crew in the middle of a mastodon stampede and it sounds just like you would imagine it to sound. You know the production crew couldn't go out and record such an event so they had to make it up and Galaxy Audio excelled creating great sound effects that move the story along without overpowering the story.

The story is a humorous story beginning in 1991 when Everett Dumphee is caught by police with moonshine in the trunk of his uncle's car. Dumphee's family history of moonshine and bootlegging goes back generations. Everett Dumphee is faced with the decision to spend ten years in prison or to enlist in the United States Army. He opts for what he thinks is the easy way out, the Army. Dumphee is labeled as the fastest bootleg driver in West Virginia and is issued the occupational specialty designation of Expert Truck Driver. He is then selected for a top-secret assignment in a newly designed and state-of-the-art All Terrain Vehicle transporting a contraband Russian time machine and developmental weaponry. Private Everett Dumphee finds himself cast into new settings when the device suddenly activates after the vehicle nearly crashes into a Mcdonalds. What follows are fantastic high-tech experiences that might be called the ultimate off-road adventure through time.

The first stop is at Fort Pitt, in the 1700s . The ATV lands outside the fort and soon while trying to find food Dumphee accidentally purchase three Native American Squaws, who think he purchased them as his bride. When trying to escape the British the crew of four begin their adventures through time, visiting the Ice Age, the time of Mammoths, Mastodons, Sabre Tooth Tigers, the time when Mayans lived in West-Central Illinois (near where St. Louis, Mo. is in Dumphee's time), to the age of dinosaurs, the year 1870, all while heading to the original destination of Denver, Colorado to try and deliver the ATV full of experimental weapons and the time machine. So really it's not a matter of where he'll end up, but when.

While the end of the book leaves you hanging with the feel of a sequel coming out, I don't think that will happen without Hubbard. Wolverton could probably take the next with no problem, but if he did I would hope he takes that unpredictable, over the top fun that makes this story.

Wolverton and Hubbard definitely did some research of the times covered in this book writing in some details that make the story more fun and almost believable, almost. The audiobook version of the book is the way to go. Galaxy Audio knows how to create audio drama, and their production of this book makes the listen a great experience.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Life" by Keith Richards & James Fox

by Keith Richards & James Fox
Read by Johnny Depp, Joe Hurley & Keith Richards
Produced by Hachette Audio (2010)
Approx 24 hours.

I think I may have read one of the most intriguing and entertaining autobiographies ever. "Life," the story of Keith Richards and his life in and out of the Rolling Stones. The Stones were/are one of the world's biggest bands and the stuff of rock and roll legend. I never was a big fan of the Stones before, but after listening to this audio book I am now. Working in radio I have played a few of their tunes and even had a couple of favorites, but I guess I never really gave them a chance.

What has made me a fan most of all is something I found extremely surprising in this audiobook, the easy flow of the story beginning with Keith Richards' early life and just rolling along through his life, warts and all. Also the idea presented that Richards' is a pretty laid back guy. He had his ups and downs with drug addiction, which he discusses through this book, but the amazing thing is that he didn't really have anything bad to say about anybody. Most celebrity biographies/autobiographies, the celeb has a beef with someone or several someones. Or there is an expose feel to a biography which has a purpose of poking at wounds. Keith did have conflicts with people, such as Brian Jones and later with Mick Jagger and a few in between, but each time Keith presented it by always taking the blame for some of the turmoil. He never blamed and there was no fingerpointing and there was no beef with anyone that he had to get out. Keith simply told his story and left it at that.

Many times throughout the book Keith turns the storytelling over to other people due to them having a different perspective, some of the other people are Marlon (his son), Bobby Keys, and just about anyone else involved in his life.

In this book all the myths are exposed, such as did Keith get his "blood changed" to break his heroin addiction? did he really snort his father's ashes? Was it a palm tree he fell from? All this and more including the loves of his life. Other than music Keith loved a few women, from Ronnie Spector to Anita Pallenberg, they're all special and from the words he uses the reader/listener can tell he loved them deeply.

Throughout the book Richards, of course, discusses his love of music. From the discovery of American Blues to Island music, he incorporates it all into the music that becomes the most timeless music of all time, Rolling Stones music. How some of the songs were written and recorded can be surprising and yet once you go back and hear the tunes it makes sense.

The audiobook is also a bit of a Keith Richards sandwich, with Keith providing the intro and the final chapters' narration of the book. Johnny Depp reads for Keith's early years, and musician Joe Hurley reads for the better part of the 70s section and Johnny Depp taking over again for the 80s and beyond. Depp, who based his Jack Sparrow pirate character on Richards, does an awesome job reading as Richards, but Joe Hurley makes the middle section fun doing a great "slight" impersonation of Richards and the others whose voices are required. As far as biographies go this is the best read one I've ever heard.

With the book being around 24 hours of listening time, I was a bit wary of the task, but once the book started I was hooked and just couldn't let go. Great bit of rock and roll history with some inside stories that make the trip more fun.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies That the Government Tells " by Jesse Ventura & Dick Russell

"American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies That the Government Tells "
by Jesse Ventura & Dick Russell
Read by George K. Wilson
Produced by Tantor Audio (2010)
Approx 10.5 hours

I have just read the first non-fiction audiobook that has left me looking over my shoulder and watching what kind of digital/paper trail I'm creating. "American Conspiracies..." by Jesse Venture and Dick Russell is one of those books that tells you the facts and fallacies and leaves the listener/reader to decide for themselves. Jesse Ventura had a very interesting TV program on TruTV network which exposed a lot of hidden government ideals and this book provides a great supplement to that program. It also works alone in that it presents some things which the network wouldn't touch.

Ventura begins the book with information on all the lone gunman assassinations that have plagued our government since the days of Abraham Lincoln. The first half of the book covers the assassinations of Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy. Bringing to question the whole lone gunman theory. Through the latter assassinations Ventura talks about the mind control branch of the CIA commonly referred to as the MK Ultra program. I have always thought that to pull off such high level of killings these folks (Booth, Oswald, Sirhan, Ray) had to have some sort of backing. Think about it these took careful planning and then to carry out the operation had to have a team of experts. Even when the government is the good guy, they need a team to carry out such events. Look at what it took to bring down Hussein & bin Laden.

Ventura then goes on to bring to light some of the darker sides of the Watergate scandel, the Jones town massacre, The stolen elections by Reagan and later the 2 almost three stolen elections by Bush (George W.), the financial crisis of 2007-10 (which is still being felt today) and the questions brought up in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including the one question I've had why was the bin Laden family on the only allowed flight out of the country during the week after the attacks?

At the end of each chapter Ventura throws in a "what should we do now?" section in which he suggests ideas that the American public can institute to help keep this from happening again. These sections are very thought provoking without starting revolution.

If you love your country (U.S.A.) and want some food for thought check out this book. I will warn you though, thanks to the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. act the government can and will access your digital/paper trail, so if you check this out from the library (like I did) or purchase online they will know. It's funny that I never had any problems with any government institution but one month after checking out this book I started getting strange letters from the IRS and audits on my government based student loans. Makes me feel like being a veteran isn't enough in this day and age.

The reader George K. Wilson, does a great straightforward job of presenting this book and at times reminded me of listening to the Saturday morning news show for kids, "In the News." Giving the listener a nice flow of some very in depth information.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The Graduate" Stage adaptation by Terry Johnson based on the novel by Charles Webb and the Screenplay by Calder willingham and Buck Henry

"The Graduate"
Stage adaptation by Terry Johnson
based on the novel by Charles Webb and the Screenplay by Calder willingham and Buck Henry
Release Date September 2011
Full cast recording featuring: Kathleen Turner, Matthew Rhys, Linda Purl & Bruce Davison
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works
107 minutes (includes an interview w/ Kathleen Turner)

L.A. Theatre works is bringing the joys of the theatre to homes of audiobook lovers everywhere. The latest installation from LATW is the stage production of "The Graduate." Terry Johnson has adapted the screenplay and the book and conglomerated them to make this version to be performed on stage and with an excellent cast featuring Kathleen Turner as the legendary Mrs. Robinson.

The best thing about these audio releases from LATW is that they put you right in the audience. You don't have to worry about bad angles viewing the proscenium, bad acoustics in the back of the auditorium because you got your tickets too late or trying to find a parking space. This production not only has great casting but the audio recording is perfect in that all characters are heard clearly and all sound effects are perfect. The unzipping of Mrs. Robinson's dress by Benjamin Braddock is heard clearly but subtle enough that it is part of the scene and not distracting.

One of the things I liked about the movie version of "The Graduate" was the music by Simon & Garfunkel. In this production LATW provides music between scenes and acts that reflects the sound and feel of a Simon & Garfunkel tune, without being a bad copy of the music. LATW has thought of everything in this production.

The cast in this production provided that fresh feel to the play and all roles were on spot. I listened to this performance on my commutes to and from work and laughed so much that while listening to this story my workdays went by with less stress. Start the workday out with a laugh and the rest of the day goes smoothly. Maybe the stress relief market would be a good venture for these audio performances.

The story behind "The Graduate" is a dip into the life of any youth asking, "What's it all about?" Benjamin Braddock comes home after graduating college but not sure what to do next. He has a fellowship grant to return to school for his masters so he can go on to be a teacher, but he's disillusioned by life. Wandering aimlessly, Ben gets seduced by Mrs. Robinson and soon they are meeting discreetly in a hotel to have an affair. With Mrs. Robinson (and Mr. Robinson) being friends with his parents Ben never feels comfortable and when Mr. Robinson and Ben's dad set him up for a date with Elain Robinson, Mrs. Robinson forbids him to date her.

Ben initially meets Elaine at a seedy bar where strippers perform in the idea to get rid of her quick. But after hurting her feelings he feels remorse and wants to make it up to her. After some time spent together Ben falls in love with Elaine. Elaine then goes off to finish college and Ben follows.

Ben has finally found out "What it's all about," but by sleeping with Elaine's mother may have ruined that possible future for himself. A funny romp through love and philosophy, this production of "The Graduate" will have you laughing and thinking. Bravo, LATW.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

"Three Sisters" by Anton Chekhov

"Three Sisters"
by Anton Chekhov
Multi-cast performance featuring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Sarah Zimmerman, Tessa Thompson and Jon Hamm.
Produced by L.A. Theatre Works (2011)
Approx 2 hours

Every so often you have to go back and visit the classics, okay you don't HAVE to but it is really nice to see what you may have missed either the first time around or for the first time. This time around I visited a classic thanks to the wonderful production of L.A. Theatre Works. L.A. Theatre works has a full catalog of plays which have been artfully reproduced into audiobook form. This is the third play from LATW I've heard and I'm always amazed at how well they are able to translate a visual medium into an audio performance. Not only do you hear every detail but throughout the performance it feels as if you are right in the middle of the audience during the performance.

As with all the other productions I've heard from LATW the cast is excellent, performing their roles and able to translate emotions straight through the audio performance. For those of you interested and wanting some "star factor" to go with your theatre, this performance of "Three Sisters" features John Hamm as Lt. Colonel Vershinin. You may recognize Hamm from the TV series "Mad Men." Now, don't get me wrong, in the ensemble cast everyone shines, but just for a trivia aspect or able to say you know that voice, it's kinda neat.

"Three Sisters" was first performed in 1901 and at first made myself ready for a period piece, but I was surprised by the timelessness. Yes it is a period piece but the theme of the play carries on through the ages. The main theme of the play to me was trying to discover the meaning of life. At times it's a matter of wanting to be happy but other times not knowing what it's about. This was made evident to me in the final lines of Olga (one of the Sisters) and the old Doctor Chebutykin;

CHEBUTYKIN It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter.
OLGA. If we only knew, if we only knew!

Overall the play is about the decay of the privileged class in Russia and the search for meaning in the modern world and takes place in four acts. Each act progressing through time for the characters. At this point I would like to say for this production It would have been nice to know how much time had elapsed at the beginning of each act. LATW produced the play with music separating the acts, but I personally would have liked to know in advance how much time has elapsed. As each act progresses it becomes fairly obvious but it did seem a bit confusing at first.

Another nice production from the folks at L.A. Theatre works, I can't wait to see what they serve up next, but in the meantime, I'll be visiting their back catalogue.