Comments on Arthur B's The Narration of Shannara

Terry Brooks? More like Terry Audiobrooks!

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Ronan Wills at 13:53 on 2016-01-22
I recently took a stab at the first few chapters of this as blog fodder. It wasn't so much the unoriginality of the plot that got to me, so much as the fact that the story, world and characters are deeply, crushingly uninteresting. The whole post-apocalypse thing is interesting in theory (and to be fair I didn't get anywhere near the ruined cities or killbot), but when the book starts off with the characters living in a convivial fantasy inn in a twee little fantasy hamlet in the forest I have a hard time caring about what else the setting includes.

Although I did get a kick out of the fact that the Mordor analogue is named the Skull Kingdom.
Arthur B at 14:20 on 2016-01-22
There are interesting characters in the book, it's just that Allanon's entire game plan hinges on covering up how interesting he actually is, and the Ohmsfords are the absolute least interesting characters around, possibly in the entire series.

Admittedly, the killbot bit is more or less the only part where the postapocalypse stuff really prompts a deviation from the high fantasy playbook. Apparently the later books in the series include somewhat more overt appearances of sci-fi technology.
Sören Heim at 17:26 on 2016-01-22
Of course, when listening to audiobooks for this purpose, choice of subject matter is a delicate and important thing. You obviously don't want to listen to something with ornate, finely-crafted prose which you will want to read and savour in printed form.

I have found that audiobooks are a great means of discovering the melodic riches of "ornate, finely-crafted prose", qualities of sound one tends to overlook when just reading. But it's true that it's hard to follow a complex novel on tape. I use audio for re- and rereredading most of the time, which works quite well for me since drifting away and not listening isn't that much of a problem if you already know what's going on...
Arthur B at 18:11 on 2016-01-22
I think there's a distinction between prose which works really well in written form, and prose which works really well spoken, and the Venn diagram of the two has a substantial amount of overlap but the overlap is not absolute.
Sören Heim at 08:52 on 2016-01-23
Agreed, though I am having much more trouble with listening to novels I would usually skim through... Sometimes it's sort of a "have to", though. I don't find as much time to read as I used to, but still a lot to listen (drives, as you said, cleaning, even eating...)
Craverguy at 04:55 on 2016-01-24
Is this the series that has the horrible Objectivist politics?
Michal at 05:14 on 2016-01-24
There was a shortage of fantasy book title options and also a very narrow range of fantasy author names back then. You're thinking of Terry Goodkind's The Sword of Truth.
Ichneumon at 08:27 on 2016-01-24
Brooks began publishing a good fifteen to twenty years before Goodkind, and despite sort of being the epitome of That One Modern High Fantasy Writer is apparently a rather pleasant man. I have no idea about Goodkind on the personal front, though, beyond the fact that his moral attitudes are fairly alarming and probably don't make him the most affable of party guests. at 20:45 on 2016-03-03
Wow. I thought "this is rather clichéd" while watching the Lord of the Rings movies (I like them, but really more for the style than the plot or characters), but of course, Tolkien invented the clichés, so he's got a good excuse. But this sounds like barely disguised plagiarism. And "Warlock Lord"? Seriously? And it's not a genre parody?

I guess this explains why they skipped the first book in this series when they decided to make a TV series out of the Shannara novels. (I haven't watched it yet, but aside from low production values and a cast that apparently doesn't have the acting experience / inherent Britishness most people expect in High Fantasy, I've gathered that at least the cast isn't so overwhelmingly male.)

I find audio books to be very useful to keep my thought processes from turning in on themselves (in ways relating to depression / anxiety disorder) during activities that don't require mental concentration (cleaning, gardening, etc.) and while falling asleep. At the same time, it's the only way I've found I can get through some books that are either boring plot-wise, or worse, cursed with overly lengthy and dry prose. For example an audio version was the only way I finally made it through "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, after giving up twice somewhere in the Lothlorien episode during my teens. Ditto the latter Harry Potter books. And I'm currently listening to The Magicians' Guild trilogy by Trudi Canavan, who, despite the YA-typical plot and characters, seems to think her readers are 10-year-olds with the memory of a goldfish who need everything explained not once but again and again. (Well, actually, I've been re-listening my way through old Pratchett novels for the last couple of weeks, as a palate cleanser, because the social implications of the former started to piss me off too much – hetero romance between a female teenage student and her previously emotionally abusive over-30 teacher, who also murdered innocent people in the past but is supposedly a good guy; gay relationship between characters that never ever seem to touch, while the hetero characters have pillow talk scenes…) And I wish I had found an audio version for Aliette de Bodard's Aztec mystery / fantasy novels, instead of having to slog through the interminable descriptions of people's clothes by myself.

For me, it's not so much useful if an audio book is over-explaining stuff or getting repetitive, but it just doesn't bother me as much if I'm doing something else at the same time and can momentarily 'tune out', save in the knowledge that the reader will get through that part in a few minutes. (I just can't skim while I'm reading. I'm more prone to get so exasperated with the writing style that I give up on the book entirely.)

But it really does have to be a talented reader. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files are perhaps made more enjoyable by James Marsters' reading (so much so that the one book he couldn't do due to scheduling conflicts was recently re-released with Marsters as a narrator, due to popular demand). And the Discworld novels certainly benefit from Steven Briggs' voice-acting. On the other hand, I've found novels that I enjoyed reading almost ruined by a mediocre or just badly chosen audio book narrator. This unfortunately happens especially with the more niche novels (read: scifi / fantasy with non-straight and/or PoC protagonists) which usually aren't written by big name authors with guaranteed high sales. It's understandable – high quality voice actors cost more than some random guy - but still, it's regrettable if the result is something I can't bear to listen to, and so I don't get to re-experience some of my favorite novels unless I can actually make time to read for hours on end.
Robinson L at 18:00 on 2016-08-10
Interesting. I guess I have an easier time following audiobooks than you do, Arthur, and keeping track of what's going on. I sometimes find myself in the position of putting down a book (audio or otherwise) for weeks, even months at a time, but I can usually pick it back up again and get back into the flow of the story with little trouble. All the memory space which ought to be devoted to remembering things like people's names, or “where have I seen you before, again?” seems instead to be occupied with remembering stories in some detail for long stretches of time.

I listen to audiobooks all the time in my day-to-day life (my iPod is overrun with audiobooks and podcasts, and only a smattering of songs), and since really good prose isn't something I prioritize, I usually go with the audio format if I can manage it and don't worry if I'm missing out on the author's use of language. One thing you and I can agree on, though, is that audiobooks are superb for car trips. I find them a great means of fending off boredom without taking up too much of my brainspace to impede my ability to respond to the needs of the road. For whatever reason, I'm also able to follow fairly complex material while I'm driving—at least as well as when I'm not driving—so I don't have to be too discriminating about what kinds of books are for in the car as opposed to out of the car.

On the subject of the Shannara novels and the first one's lack of originality, I remember listening to a podcast interview of Orson Scott Card—whose fiction I still have a soft spot for, even if I find his politics more repellent every time I come in contact with them—and I recall him commenting that he couldn't get through Sword of Shannara because it was so patently derivative, but that Brooks has done good things with the setting since then because “he's a good writer.” I remember being struck by this latter claim, because I recalled my mother once remarking that Brooks' writing is really bad, and my mother is probably the most undiscriminating reader I have ever met. (Let's just say it was no surprise that she was the only one of the five of us who saw Oz, the Great and Powerful in the theater who actually liked it.)

Apart from one abridged audiobook when I was a kid, I have no experience with the series, and no opinions on it one way or the other.

I must say, though, I don't consider the “Medieval fantasy setting is actually a post-apocalyptic future Earth” all that innovative. I felt the same way when we had the Prince of Thorns discussion a couple of years back. I can imagine it was fresh when Brooks began writing, but it seems downright cliché by this point.

Cheriola: And I wish I had found an audio version for Aliette de Bodard's Aztec mystery / fantasy novels, instead of having to slog through the interminable descriptions of people's clothes by myself.

Yeah, lack of an audiobook version is the only reason I haven't dug into her novels thus far. I'm a slow reader, and there are so many other books ahead of hers in my reading queue.

the Discworld novels certainly benefit from Steven Briggs' voice-acting.

No kidding. Although I think Nigel Planer has an edge over Brooks when it comes to voicing Death.

I don't think I've ever had bad narration actually ruin an audiobook for me, but I've definitely encountered ones where I heard the narrator and said to myself 'Really? this is the voice we're going for with this book? *deep sigh* O-kay then …' And now that you mention it, one of the most recent times I had that experience was with a book I specifically sought out because it had a non-binary protagonist, so that part fits, also.
Arthur B at 22:13 on 2016-08-15
If you're actually bothering to read the hardcopy rather than just having the audiobook on in the background it isn't so much as "Terabrooks" as a "mistake".
Cheriola at 20:55 on 2017-08-09
Thread-necromancy because I never bothered to answer this:

@Robinson L:

I don't think I've ever had bad narration actually ruin an audiobook for me, but I've definitely encountered ones where I heard the narrator and said to myself 'Really? this is the voice we're going for with this book? *deep sigh* O-kay then …' And now that you mention it, one of the most recent times I had that experience was with a book I specifically sought out because it had a non-binary protagonist, so that part fits, also.

Since I just mentioned the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling in another comment: Book 4 of those (Shadow's Return) was one case where the narrative voice really grated for me.
Now, I really loved the first 3 books in that series, but then the author went on a decade-long break between those and the fourth book. To quickly recap for myself, I listened to some old audiobook version of the first 3 books (which was a little unprofessional, with a narrator with quite a strong American accent, who often couldn't maintain a natural sentence rhythm and who pronounced most of the fantasy names differently than I had in my head - but okay). Then I started the new audiobook of the 4th novel, which had a different narrator - one who made one of the main protagonists sound like a bratty teenager, which certainly had not been the case before. (Said character has a complicated characterization in the first 3 books where it comes to his physical and mental age, but most of the time he can be equated to a 21-year-old who was forced to grow up fast because he ran away from home at the age of 14. For a long stretch at the beginning of the series, the narrative makes you think he's 30+, because he's so unnaturally mature for his age. The firest audiobook narrator usually makes him sound like he's 40.) This new narrator just emphazided and kept reminding me of the author's choice to change this protagonist's characterization to display immature / unprofessional behaviour far more often and even in situations where it doesn't make any sense, which was just one of a long list of problems in that book that made this series continuation such a deep disappointment to me. (The scars from that are part of the reason I've become so reluctant to read/watch sequels of something I really liked in the first installment.)

If you ever read / listen to the Nightrunner series, do yourself a favour and stop after book 3. These days, there are more fantasy series with non-tragic, non-heteronormative heroes around - you don't have to stick with this one until after the author stopped giving a toss about good writerly craft (like not putting in tons of continuity errors and retcons) or genuinely progressive social politics. (Lots of what went wrong with Shadow's Return can probably be explained with the author having been introduced to yaoi by her fans and encouraged to adopt its genre conventions, which are not really compatible with Western intersectional feminism.)

I'm curious, which book with a non-binary protagonist were you talking about?
Robinson L at 22:02 on 2017-08-11
I'm curious, which book with a non-binary protagonist were you talking about?

Took me a day or two to remember the title: it was “Lizard Radio” by Pat Schmatz. Creative world-building, even though dystopias aren’t exactly my favorite, but I wasn’t enamored with the narrator, sorry to say.
Cheriola at 04:26 on 2017-08-12
Hm... How bad a dystopia are we talking about here? I don't mind reading such in principle, as long as it's not relentlessly depressing (like The Handmaid's Tale) or specifically designed to make the life of LGBT characters even worse than in real life, because the author thinks that tragedy is the only way to inspire sympathy. I'm reading the phrase "government-run Cropcamp" in a review right now, and I'm thinking: Gulag? Or just like when my mother had to work a few weeks as a farmhand / harvest helper as part of her non-agriculturally-related university studies, which no-one liked, but which served to make the whole class bond quickly?

Also, I'm reading the phrases "poetic style" and "flowery language" and I get flashbacks to Wraeththu... I have a relatively low tolerance for purple prose. How bad is it, compared to, say, an Anne Rice novel?
Robinson L at 18:00 on 2017-08-12
The dystopian angle isn't too bad. More regimentation and indoctrination and generally restricted freedoms than, say, the North American Indian Schools of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Some characters die, but it's not like they're in The Hunger Games, or anything. And the society isn't particularly oppressive towards non-binary people, it's pretty much an equal opportunity oppressor.

I confess I didn't completely understand what the story was doing with the non-binary characters, but my best recollection from when I listened to it a year ago was that the protagonist's treatment was treated as more discordant than traumatizing. That might just be because I missed some undertones which actual non-binary readers would more likely pick up on, though.

I've never read Anne Rice, and even if I had, I'm afraid I'm the last you want person to ask for a consultation on prose. It has to be damn near ultraviolet for me to recognize - and that's just in print form. I'm not sure if I've ever noticed bad prose in audio format. Sorry.
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