Following the Boston Pops musicians-at-home tribute to COVID-19 first responders, I was blown away today by this solo performance at home by the New York Philharmonic’s principal clarinetist Anthony McGill, of “America the Beautiful”—beautifully and subtly re-tuned to convey Mr. McGill’s sorrow and anger at racial injustice. Watch and listen to it on a device with good sound; it’s worth it. McGill ends the piece with… well, I’ll let you watch and see.
McGill’s statement inspired this haunting and inspiring rendition of Sebelius’s Hymn from Finlandia, by music students and faculty from four different music schools, all taking two knees in protest of injustice.
The story appears on NPR’s Here and Now, with an interview by WBUR radio’s Robin Young. The interview is well worth a listen:
It all started with the pair of timpani we rescued from a middle-school dumpster a year ago. I’ve been playing those, off and on, down in our basement, not letting my lack of knowledge about kettle drums stop me. But long, long ago, in my high school band in a galaxy somewhere, I put aside the clarinet one year to play snare drum in the marching band. I’ve long hankered to pick up the sticks again.
Well, it’s happened. The need for a respite after finishing work on the monster book, combined with the local drum store having a closing sale, led me to a practice pad. And in the way of all gateway drugs, that led to… a full drum kit—a Pyle PTED06 electronic tabletop kit, to be precise. I’ve been having a ball.
Let’s let the video speak for me. I present… The Star Rigger Drum Lab!
(This continues the story of my journey to an audiobook of Neptune Crossing, begun in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t already read that, start there.)
After several failed attempts at putting The Chaos Chronicles into audio via podcast, I was metaphorically trapped and rudderless in the great clouds of Jupiter. I gave it a rest for a while.
My focus returned to writing. Audiobooks took second place to ebooks. I joined Book View Café, a marvelous cooperative publishing venture of several dozen veteran authors, including some highly respected SF writers. It was a smart move. I was doing my ebooks in community now, not just on my own.
And suddenly a path broke open in Jupiter’s clouds! In a remarkable breakthrough, a resourceful BVC member got us a distribution deal with Audible: We had a first-rate list of books, and they would make audiobooks of pretty much everything we offered them! They took my two short story collections, which was all I could offer at the time. I didn’t have the rights to my remaining books. I wondered if I could get just the unused audiobook rights back. I asked. And asked again. For two years.
I was never told no, just that so and so was away, or on leave, or… silence. Finally, one day, word came through: They weren’t just reverting the audiobook rights of certain books; they were reverting all rights. The books were mine again, to do with as I pleased. Good-bye, Jupiter! BVC and Audible, here we come!
This is going to be great!
And perhaps it would have been—if it hadn’t come two weeks too late. Audible had changed their policy. They would not be adding these books to their list. Nooooo! We were free of Jupiter, but on a slingshot trajectory into the endless void.
My only option seemed to be to pay a narrator and do the book myself. But I didn’t have the time or money. I grew ever more discouraged, as all the planets we knew dwindled in our viewer.
And then… something unexpected twinkled on the scanner: Skyboat Media, Stefan Rudnicki’s recording company. I already knew and loved Stefan’s work narrating other books. His voice is deep and resonant, with the gravitas and character of James Earl Jones. His name would have been at the top of my request list. But there was no way I could afford to hire him and make an audiobook on my own dime.
Eventually, I set aside my discouragement and sent Stefan an email: Would you be interested in looking at a couple of my books and telling me what you think? To my delight, he got back to me right away. He was interested. I sent him some ebooks. And a week later, I had his answer: He loved Neptune Crossing and wanted to narrate it. I could hear the enthusiasm in his voice. Further, he was offering a publication deal, with a modest advance and distribution through Blackstone Audio, a giant in the field. It would be in Audible and iTunes, as well—and all with one of my favorite narrators lending his voice to the story!
Did I mention that Stefan is a Grammy and Hugo winner for his narrations?
I did not have to think for longer than it took to pinch myself. The deal was struck, and soon Stefan was at work recording. And now the audiobook of Neptune Crossing is finished, and is live in all the major places where audiobooks are sold!
And you know what? This time, it is great!
If you like audiobooks, I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’ve never tried an audiobook before, I can’t think of a better place to start. If this goes well, the rest of the series will likely follow!
Today marks launch day for the audiobook of Neptune Crossing! Narrated by the Grammy-winning Stefan Rudnicki! I feel as if I’ve just discovered a planet. Or maybe traveled to one. It’s been a long journey—and I often thought there would be no audiobook at all.
Neptune Crossing is one of my best known works, and the beginning of my most ambitious series, The Chaos Chronicles. But a thousand years or so ago, when I first sold the Chaos series to Tor Books, audiobooks were the furthest thing from my mind. They had not reached anything like the popularity they enjoy today, and Audible, iTunes, and library downloads were just a futurist’s dream. Only top-selling books got the audio treatment, and while I had my appreciative and loyal audience, I simply did not fit that profile.
Time passed, and publishing changed. Indie-publishing happened. I started creating ebooks of my older titles, breathing new life into books long out of print. And I discovered audiobooks myself. What’s this? You can download audiobooks from the library? I loaded up my trusty Zune and started listening to books while I walked the dog. What a discovery! But why weren’t my books available?
I cast about for ideas. Some of my colleagues—Jim Kelly, for example—were building their audiences through podcast readings of their own work. I could do that, couldn’t I? I thought I was a pretty good reader. Okay, I had no studio, limited experience, and only a cheap computer mic. But I gave it a shot. I recorded the prologue to the forthcoming Sunborn.
This is going to be great!
And that’s when I discovered just how frigging hard and time consuming it was to get an audio recording right. I’d thought to release the whole of Sunborn chapter by chapter, podcast style. But halfway through the first chapter, I realized it wasn’t going to work—not if I wanted to do anything else in life, such as finish the next book. So, with deep regret, I pulled the plug on that idea. (However, my reading of the Sunborn prologue eventually got turned into a video for an arts festival, and you can view it on my videos page. I think it’s pretty cool.)
Once again, I was left in the wilderness, with no clear road to audio for the Chaos books. Or, to pursue the planetary metaphor, I was adrift in the asteroid belt, thrusters sputtering. My agent eventually sold some of my other titles to Audible. But I didn’t have the rights to The Chaos Chronicles.
None of this went unnoticed by my wife Allysen, who had worked in TV production. In 2011, she decided it was time to step up. We found inspiration in Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio, whose productions we had been enjoying as family entertainment. We would start at the beginning and create a full-cast amateur podcast of Neptune Crossing, to put online for free, using local talent! In our suburb of Boston, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a writer, artist, or actor. We put out the call. And people came forth—people with talent and enthusiasm, and willingness to help. One of them, Bob Kuhn, even had book narration experience.
This is going to be great!
We bought a decent recorder, borrowed a bunch of sound curtains, and turned our living room into a Saturday afternoon recording studio. Allysen directed, and I took the part of Bandicut. Sam played the quarx, Peter and John each took several characters, as did Judy, Lisa, and Allysen. Bob laid down the narration track. Others came in for shorter parts. We got most of the book in the can, as raw recording. We began logging takes.
And then… Allysen got a new job, a demanding one. Someone else’s work schedule changed, making Saturdays a problem. We were running ourselves ragged. It was taking a toll on my writing. I undertook the sound editing… and rediscovered just how time consuming that job was. Finally we called a hiatus. I had a book to write! Allysen needed to focus on her new job. The hiatus stretched. It was maybe a year before we realized that this project, too, was something we could not finish, not now, not without killing ourselves. We’d gotten out of the asteroid belt, only to be trapped, adrift and blind, in the clouds of Jupiter.
How’s that for a mingling of formats? Skyboat Media, producers of the soon-to-be-released audiobook of Neptune Crossing, has put together a short video trailer, showing Stefan Rudnicki at work reading the prologue, from the quarx’s point of view. It’s short, and it’s nifty. And it came out just in time to be my second big birthday present, after the discovery of Proxima b, the potentially Earthlike planet circling Proxima Centauri. Here it is:
Speaking of video, I did a Skype video interview with Stefan today, which was great fun—actually our first “face to face” meeting, if you count videophone as face to face. I hope we get a chance to meet in person one of these days. I’ll let you know when that interview goes up.
Back in my high school days in the Buckeye State, I played in my school’s marching band—first on clarinet, then bass drum, then snare drum. I vividly remember how difficult it was to keep our marching lines straight, stepping eight to five*, even when the band was just marching down the field. (*Eight to five means eight measured strides to every five yards.) With that in mind, prepare to be impressed when you watch the Ohio State University Marching Band perform a routine they called the Hollywood Blockbuster Show—especially the T-Rex from Jurassic Park!
You can skip the first minute or so, which is the other band getting off the field. Watch in full screen!
I love this celebration of over 50 years of starships and their pilots, by bironic, to the tune of Starships Were Meant to Fly, by Nicki Minaj. For better viewing, pop it up to full screen and wear headphones. For best viewing, download it, copy to a USB thumb drive, and play it on a widescreen TV from your Blu-ray player. You’ll be glad you did. It encapsulates a lifetime of vividly realized star travel, from Forbidden Planet all the way up to the Star Trek reboot. See how many scenes you can recognize. I got most of them, but a few were from shows that escaped me.
When Julia and I flew to the Carolinas, we took Spirit Airlines, about which the only good things I can say are, the tickets were cheap and the plane didn’t crash. Did you know there’s an airline that charges for carry-on bags—a lot, if you pay in advance, and more if you pay at the airport? (Hint: Spirit Airlines.) And an airline that charges for seat assignments if you want to pick a seat when you book? (Spirit Airlines.) And charges for a boarding pass if you don’t go to the little kiosk to print one? (Yes. Spirit Airlines.)
The whole experience reminded of this song, “Cheap Flights”: