Audiobooks: They Collaborate, You Listen

Last year around this time, YA author Tamora Pierce released her newest work, Melting Stones, straight to audio via Bruce Coville’s company Full Cast Audio. According to the Audio Publisher’s Association, this was the first time a manuscript had appeared in audio before print. Now it’s happening again. Local favorites John Scalzi, Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder have teamed up on a future-cities anthology called Metatropolis, released as an audiobook today, October 21st. Even better, if you’re a Battlestar Galactica fan, three of the stories come to you in the familiar voices of Dee, Gaeta, and Colonel Tigh, and the sample up on Audible.com is from Michael Hogan (Tigh)’s section. In the words of John Scalzi, SQUEE.

But when Melting Stones came out, there was some fuss and furbelow over Tammy’s decision to release in audio first. People objected that audiobooks are more expensive, harder to get in other countries and discriminate against the hard-of-hearing/Deaf. Discussions on Metatropolis have added concerns about Audible’s DRM policy to the list. I’ll be interested to see what people have to say on those topics, but by far and away the most common reaction was that people just dislike audiobooks.

I didn’t get into audiobooks until I was having trouble sleeping and a friend gave me the U.K. versions of Harry Potter, read by Stephen Fry. I’ve been an absolute fiend for them ever since, going through a good deal of Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and, yes, Tamora Pierce, while staring at the ceiling or riding the subway to work. What with mp3 players ‘n’ the intertubes ‘n’ all, audiobooks are everywhere—there’s even a family of audio zines—and interesting celebrities are getting into the game, along with the field’s experienced and brilliant readers.

Audiobooks just don’t intrude on my mental landscape the way movies do, and I tend to delight in the reader’s funny and often brilliant voices rather than quibble with character interpretations. One friend of mine doesn’t like audiobooks because she can’t keep track of a narrative when she hears it; I have the same difficulty processing the visuals in comics, so to each brain its own medium. I’m curious about my new-found obsession, though, and I wonder what special pleasures books written for audio might afford, even aside from full-cast readings like Bruce Coville’s company does. I had a playwriting teacher once who urged us to think about things you can do on a stage that just don’t work on camera—crazy, absurdist, metaphorical things! What experimentations with form will arise? What aural rather than visual enhancements? What will be the front-of-book map of the audio world?

Most importantly, how cool is it that Michael Hogan and Jay Lake can team up to make the soundtrack of my life?

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