Thursday, October 18, 2007

Who Are the Great Readers of Science Fiction?

The above title is not a rhetorical question. At Capclave I attended a reading by Andy Duncan of his wonderfully demented new story, “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse” (Eclipse 1, Night Shade Books, edited by Jonathan Strahan and due out in earliest November) and it seemed to me that he clearly belonged somewhere on the list of Ten Best Readers-Aloud of Their Own Fiction in the Mingled Genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Only I’m not quite sure who else ought to be on that list.

Howard Waldrop, of course. By universal acclaim, H’ard gets the number one spot on the list. I’m pretty sure I belong somewhere on it – at least when I’m on my game. I did a reading of “Radio Waves” at Temple University for Samuel R. Delany’s students and got a standing ovation at the end, and that wasn’t even my single best rendition of that story. (The one I did in Seattle was.) And then there’s Andy.

Andy has a lovely Southern accent and I realize that to those who know accents that says nothing, but what can I do? I’m a Philadelphian, I don’t know from accents. It’s probably something like Western-Alabaman-Lower-Beluthahatchie-County-South-Slope- of-Possum-Grits-Mountain-Wrong-Side-of-Town but it’s odds-on that I haven't even gotten the state right, so don’t listen to me. The thing is that when he reads a story, particularly one which is derived from Southern culture, the accent grows stronger and adds to the experience enormously. You can provide the voice for his more elaborate sentences on your own, but you’ve got to hear the man in order to appreciate the spin he puts on a simple, “He blinked” or “No way.” Anybody can add an extra syllable or three to a word. But it takes a real story-reader to add a half-syllable. Andy Duncan can do that.

I’m waiting for Andy to get famous as a reader so I can buy a CD of him reading his stories. It’s probably too much to hope for that he’d get so well known as to justify a disc of him reading classic Southern stories by Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Truman Capote . . . Ah, well.

So that’s two for the list and maybe three if you’re willing to take my word on myself, as most wouldn’t and nobody can blame them for that. But who else?

Why not tell me who you’d put on the list? I’d love to know.


Scraps said...

Geoff Ryman. Actors have an advantage.

Jack Womack. Again, the accent helps. Close to twenty years ago, Jack and Terry Bisson read "They're Made Out of Meat" together at Dixon Place, and it was unimprovable.

Matt said...

I haven't heard nearly enough SF/F/H writers read their own work, so I can't say who belongs among the Top 10 Best.

That said, I'm a huge fan of Neil Gaiman's readings; for my money, anything spoken in a British accent is that much more pleasant to the ear. Plus, he's very good at pacing himself, at speaking clearly, at delivering the funny or solemn bits with equal grace.

I know podcasting has grown a lot over the past year or two; I keep meaning to check out what's available.

TN-Tanuki said...

Harlan Ellison. Live or Memorex, he is a master reader. Certainly ranks number two or three.

Jacob said...

I once had the pleasure of hearing Andy read Edward Lear's "Dong with the Luminous Nose." For one night we were all convinced that Lear had been a Southerner, at least at some point in his life.

Steve said...

I have to add Kelly Link. Her reading style is understated, but her stories are amazing. Encountering an unpublished Link story by having her read it to you is mind boggling.

Oh, and I've heard that Swanwick guy read. He's pretty good too.

Steve L.

Michael Swanwick said...

Whoops. I forgot Harlan. Harlan and H'ard tied for first, by popular acclaim. I haven't heard Kelly or Neil or Geoff read, though clearly I should. Terry's brilliant, I agree. But if I ever heard Jack read, it was decades ago. But he has such a sly delivery that he's got to be good.

Hmmm. It's possible I wouldn't make the Top Ten after all. When I'm good, I'm unbeatable. But I'm not always at the peak of my game.

Anybody other names come to mind?

Exiled said...

Two come right to mind - Jeff Ford's voice and presence and accent make him my favorite all time reader. Perhaps being a Long-Islander myself makes me a little bit biased. Michael Cisco also does a great job when he reads. Oh, and China Mieville could read the ingredients to a package of Twinkies and have it sound cool. Thomas Cook stole the show from under the feet of Peter Straub, no slouch himself, when I saw them @ The KGB. Jonathan Carroll can pull you right into one of his stories and leave you feeling as if the story had been about your own life.

Jason Erik Lundberg said...

Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Carroll, Geoff Ryman, all ditto. Amazing readers.

And I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of Andy. When he was first starting out, and I was one of maybe two or three in the audience, he still gave incredible performances. One thing that makes his readings so enjoyable is that he's so incredibly relaxed, and he looks like he's having a helluva lot of fun. He's also like that in regular conversation; his stories about his parents or about pranking John Kessel are hilarious and riveting. The dude is an absolute natural storyteller.

Rackstraw Press said...

Liz Hand--a brilliant actor, the work becomes Real.
M. John Harrison--gets the perfect dry tone of attitude in his work,.
Nalo Hopkinson--teaches you how to read her work.

Gaiman I find a bit too "poetry". Like it in short form, but very happy to listen to Lenny Henry instead.

Michael Swanwick said...

Come to think of it, has anybody here heard Barry Malzberg read? I haven't, but when he falls into a monlogue, it can be mesmerizing. I wonder if that carries over.

Jeffrey said...

Coming late to this, but my favorite was Roger Zelazny. He would read in a sort of flat voice, just expressive enough, that put a real edge on his often-rococo language.