If you started listening to audiobooks over the past ten or so years, consider yourself to be extremely lucky, as you’re living in a true Golden Age where narration, production, and ease of use are extremely good. But long ago, none of that was something you could take as a given, as it most decidedly wasn’t.
I was reminded of this when I was searching the Infinite Library, our server of music, video, and audiobooks, for something to listen to on my next winter walk about our Estate. Having heard the superb narration by Zelazny of one of his works, A Night in the Lonesome October, I was wondering what else was to be had for his works. There was The Amber Chronicles but I wanted something shorter than the two five book cycles of that series. The index said we had a recording of Isle of the Dead, so I loaded it on my perfectly functioning ten year old iPod.
Ouch. First off was the fact that the narrator felt obligated to tell us just how many pages it was! And then he read a bio of Zelazny, a summation of the novel, and just how many cassettes this work was. I have no idea who moved it over to being a single MP3 or when it was added to the server, but absolutely no clean up was done so every hiss, pop, and crackle of the original source, the eight cassettes it came on, was all there. As well as an echoey sound to the narration.
Written in 1969, the novel is about Francis, the oldest human alive in the 32nd century, as he was born in the 19th century. He’s a terraformer, having learned the skills for a member of a deliberately dying race called the Pei’ans. There are only twenty-seven existing worldscapers; Sandow, bound to Shimbo of Darktree, Shrugger of Thunders, is the only non-Pei’an among them, a fact deeply hated by a Pei’ans who was judged unsuitable to be a worldscaper by his fellow Pei’ans and plans to kill Sandow for that slight.
You get a fair amount of Zelazny pontificating in a thinly veiled manner on the America society that existed when the novel was written, and perhaps just as much of a look at what I’d say are his small ‘l’ liberation views. Nothing that, if you’ve read any amount of sf from that period, you’ve not encountered before. The story itself good enough to overcome the preachiness in places.
The narrator, Steve Grant according to some sources, is actually quite good and brought life to the text rather nicely. Zelazny’s world building is second to none, even when his diologue is, errr, stilted. It was well-worth hearing and if it ever gets an official cleaned up release, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
(Recorded Books, no date given)