Adams, Douglas: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The; Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe, and Everything; So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (audio)

I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks on my iPod during my commute, some from the library, some from Audible.com. My prior audiobook experience had been limited to solo trips to Massachusetts, but these are turning out to be a good way to decompress and keep me awake.

So far on this new spate of listening, I’ve only listened to two things that I hadn’t read before. I am a die-hard re-reader, as you will have noticed, and actually I’m finding listening to books to be a good way of re-experiencing them, because I tend to skim when I get really involved in what-happens-next. (I’m planning to try The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (the unabridged Rob Inglis versions) after the turn of the year; I think it might be an interesting way of getting back to the text.) On my daily commute, I find that new stuff is almost too involving—I’ve yet to circle the block so I can listen to the end of the chapter, but I’ve been tempted; also, if I’m distracted for a moment by traffic, it’s slightly inconvenient to skip back and listen again.

On the other hand, I sometimes feel guilty about spending so much time on familiar works. A sort of compromise is to listen to things that I’ve read before but don’t remember well. Douglas Adams’ first four Hitchhiker books turned out to be a good example of this: I had no recollection of the third, Life, the Universe, and Everything. None whatsoever. Which is somewhat odd, since it’s the most like an actual book of the first four, with a plot and pace and a reasonably coherent story. (The first in particular is lumps of exposition with a beginning and a (very abrupt) end; it doesn’t have so much middle, as I’d seen remarked about the adaptations for the forthcoming movie. But when it’s such cool exposition, you can get away with it. The fifth is not a book; it’s a giant slap in the face of the reader, an abomination whose very existence pains me. ) I’d remembered Life as the least good of the first four, and I’m still not sure what I think of it, but I think now I’ll remember what it’s about.

(I’m weird and like the fourth the best, always have, probably because I’m a sap and slightly uncomfortable with the misanthropy in the others, particularly the second. I really don’t want to hear why you dislike it, if you do, because I want to keep it as my favorite.)

Adams, by the way, is very bad at transitions, and this flaw is really pointed up by the audio format. The worst is one transition in Life, because it simply isn’t there; I thought maybe I’d spaced out, or the audio file was glitchy, but no, the book has the same lack.

These are read by Adams, who does a fabulous job of it. There are a few minor infelicities: in Restaurant at the End of the Universe, his voices for the robot characters are run through some kind of special effect filter, which makes the lovely confrontation between Marvin and the war robot unfortunately hard to follow; the overall sound quality isn’t quite as sharp as more recently recorded audiobooks; and occasionally they seem to speed up a bit, as if to fit on a certain number of tapes. But overall I liked these a lot, and I’m quite looking forward to getting the Dirk Gently books, which I also don’t remember at all (these are all available from Audible).

[split into multiple posts for import into MT; hit “next”]

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  1. I’ve got a few recommendations, with an anecdote to boot. You’re already listening to The Curse of Chalion, so I imagine this isn’t exactly news to you, but I really enjoyed The Reader’s Chair’s adaptation of Borders of Infinity and hope to check out more of their Vorkosigan adaptations in the future. I also dug the audio book adaptation of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. And, at 18 hours, it’ll definately keep you occupied for a while. Of course, depending on how you feel about Stephenson, that may or may not be a good thing. And, while not unabridged readings, allow me to give an enthusiastic plug for the work of the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company: http://www.artc.org/ They do top-notch radio dramatizations of genre fiction in general and a slew of Lovecraft and Heinlein in particular. The only problem is that their material isn’t avilable on MP3 and the entire catalog has yet to make the jump to CD. Still, it’s good stuff – I’m particularly fond of their adaptation of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” – and you might find it worth the time to convert some of their CD titles to MP3s. Finally, the anecdote. An old girlfriend of mine went through a period of insomnia where she simply couldn’t get to sleep without listening to Douglas Adams reading the Hitchhiker’s books. Apprently she found DNA murmering in the background to be very soothing; I found it to be mildly annoying, but nothing I couldn’t sleep through. Not long after that, I met Adams at the video game conference E3, where he was plugging his game Starship Titanic. He was happy (if a bit perplexed) to sign a poster for the game “To Emily, pleasant dreams, Douglas Adams”. Fortunatly, she was amused. Phil

  2. Do you like Terry Pratchett at all? I *love* the Tony Robinson (abridged) versions, but the can’t be bought in the US that I know of 🙁 I like the Celia Imrie tellings of the witch books except that they use an annoying special effect for Death. I just finished Carpe Jugulum, which was done by Nigel Planer. No annoying effects, and I particularly like his Perdita, but he seems to have not understood what he was reading in a few sections.

  3. Phil: the library has one of the Reader’s Chair adaptations, on cassette I think which is suboptimal for my purposes. I’m reluctant to try Vorkosigan adaptations just because there are so many Miles books for that voice to need to work! Also, rumor on the Bujold mailing list is that the company is not doing well, so there may not be further ones. I shall take a look at the ATRC, thanks. Lynn: I love Terry Pratchett, and all of the unabridged readings are on Audible. I got _Jingo_ to try out, on the theory that it might get me back into the re-read of the Watch books. I listened to a bit and I don’t like the Vimes voice, but I’m going to give it *one* more try. (It’s a problem–as I said, I don’t know what Vimes sounds like, but I know it’s not _that_.)

  4. The fifth is not a book; it’s a giant slap in the face of the reader, an abomination whose very existence pains me. …Which is why it’s so difficult for me that _this_ is the one of his that I’ve got that’s autographed. (That I went to a reading for, and and and… yeah.) Me, I’ve got, for the first time, the radio show, which I plan to listen to Real Soon Now. (I’ve _read_ the scripts, mind you. Just haven’t ever listened to it.)

  5. Radio show? Where and how?

  6. Kate, surely you know there was a radio show? I mean, I’d understand if you didn’t know the BBC had been airing new episodes, but… Anyway, you can buy it on convenient MP3 CD straight from the Beeb.

  7. Yes, of course I knew it was a radio show! I was just wondering how you *got* it. Hmmph. But thanks for the information. I’m not sure I want to buy it when I’ve already listened to the book, but I’ll think about it.

  8. My apologies, I misinterpreted your exclamation in its brevity. Please, no more braid-tugging and arm-crossing!

  9. Skwid: I have no braids to tug, and I can’t type with my arms crossed, so you’re safe.

  10. Got ’em on Ebay. Well, /I/ didn’t get ’em, my /partner/ did. You could have my copies of the radio-show-on-video-tape, though, if you wanted. (I wouldn’t recommend it, personally.)

  11. kate: Is it just a blank screen with the sound? Weird.

  12. Yep. I got them about 10 years ago from my then-boyfriend, who didn’t have a tape deck and created ingeneous solutions to said problem.

  13. I am intrigued by your mention of a Bujold mailing list – could you provide a link? Sorry I can’t provide any audiobook recommendations, but I have recently enjoyed hearing _Kim_ read aloud in person. It has lots of fascinating accents to experiment with, and hearing it read allowed me to dwell on some of the beautiful descriptive passages, and Kipling’s distinctive dialogues, that I had not remembered from reading it myself.

  14. Laurel: I looked at _Kim_ before I read Laurie R. King’s _The Game_ (not yet logged), which includes an older Kim as a character, but it just felt like it would have been homework to read it. It might well work better aloud, but the only unabridged edition I can find was recorded in very poor quality, and also was narrated by a woman. I do have an audiobook of _Just So Stories_ which I grabbed cheaply, though. And: Bujold mailing list.

  15. I loved the readings of Vorkosigan books. They use two readers, one for male and one for female voices. I completely agree with you on listening to books you’ve already read. That way there are less car distractions. I’ve also read books where I wasn’t sure if I would like the author, such as the Tony Hillerman, and (ugh) Robert Jordan. I find I prefer the tapes to the CD format, since you can just pop out the tape when you want a break, but for the CD you need to remember what chapter you were on. I thought the Patrick O’Brien books worked really well on audiobook, with some lovely British captain’s accent railing away at poor Stephen.

  16. Kvon: my audiobooks these days are on my iPod, either from Audible or ripped library CDs (I feel guilty about this not at all, as I’m not going to distribute the files or listen to them more than once), and those files can be bookmarked. Otherwise I agree with you. I’m contemplating trying the O’Briens on audiobook; I’ve read the first three, but stalled out. I couldn’t skim the nautical jargon on audio, which might be a good or bad thing. => OTOH, I do have ideas about the characters’ voices from the movie. We’ll see.

  17. I’ve seen several of the O’Brian books on audiotape at the local library, but I recoiled in horror to see that they were abridged down to something like four hours or so. How much can they get in in four hours? Yes, I’m being a snobby purist. Sorry, we all have our moments…

  18. Trent: my library has the unabridged O’Briens, and so does Audible. I don’t believe in abridged audiobooks either.

  19. They did a pretty good job with the movie. I only saw it recently, but I liked it a lot. The only thing that bugged me was how they did Zaphod’s bi-headedness. All the time I was wondering though if people who had never read (or heard…) the book could really follow it that much. You’re right about the lack of coherence, but somehow when reading the book I never noticed it so much.

  20. Vertaling, welcome, and sorry your comment was temporarily held as spam.
    My recollection of the _Hitchhiker’s_ movie was that it was somewhat more coherent than I expected, though by virtue of an annoying grafted-on romantic subplot. On the whole I’d prefer incoherence.

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