An Audio-Book Review: Am I Mything Something?

Some of the Myth Adventures

By Robert Lynn Asprin

Another Fine Myth
Myth Conceptions
Myth Directions

Unabridged audiobooks published by Recorded Books, Inc.

Read by Jeff Woodman

Hit or Myth
Mything Persons
Little Myth Marker
M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link

Unabridged recordings published by the Northwest Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

Read by Pat Overstreet

The Stories:

I cannot claim to be entirely unbiased when discussing the stories of Robert Asprin. You see, I knew Bob. Well, okay, actually I knew Yang the Nauseating, the persona he adopted while he was still playing in the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. We sang filk songs together, took a few verbal potshots back and forth and so forth. I don’t mean to imply he was a close friend, we each ran in our own circles, but we knew who each other were and usually got along.

Anyway, I was not impressed by Bob’s first published book, The Cold Cash War, It read like something written by an accountant, but when Another Fine Myth came along that was something completely different and it was as much fun as “The Dark Horde Survival Handbook and Training Manual or How to Live Off Other Peoples’ Land,” which was written while he was still active in the SCA. My favorite might have been the chapter on “Ten Ways to Avoid a Fair Fight.”

In any case, Another Fine Myth was fresh and fun to read and really showed the world just what Bob could do when he put his mind to it. it was a great book and I heartily recommend it. I also quite enjoyed the next few books of the series. MythConceptions  and MythDirections continue the adventures of apprentice magician Skeeve and he demonic mentor Aahz without losing any f the qualities that made the first book so wonderful.

Now part of my delight in the series is that I know (or knew… depending) some of the real life characters Bob’s characters were at least partially based on. I may be wrong on some of my identifications. A bunch of us used to sit around and try to figure out who was who. Sometimes it seemed obvious, but other times Bob’s characters seemed to be mash-ups, which actually made them more interesting. I’ll only share one guess, that Bob frequently saw himself as Skeeve. Many are the tales I heard Bob tell in which he referred to himself as “the Kid>” and Skeeve is frequently referred to as “the kid.” Coincidence? Maybe, but I stand by my ridiculous assertion. Actually Bob’s personality comes out in bits and pieces in  many of his characters, which is no surprise. I know I see myself in many of the characters I write. The one thing I am absolutely certain of, however; none of the Myth characters is me. As I said, Bob and I weren’t that close and he had far more colorful associates to draw from. Besides, with a couple easily spotted exceptions, I don’t think he based any character completely on real life people.

So the stories and light and fun and, most of the time, comic delights, at least in the early books of the series. There’s a problem with any series, however. After a while it has trouble supporting its own weight. An author can do two things with a series of stories; either each one builds on a foundation of the previous stories or it has no real memory of previous adventures, much like your average TV sitcom. Bob’s stories always built on what came before them.

I agree with that, by the way. A series should build, but there’s a danger there and I fear the Myth Adventures fall prey to it. After a while you have so much background that you have trouble making it all fit in the book with still some room for the latest story. Also it becomes increasingly difficult for a reader to pick up a book in the middle of a series and not become hopelessly lost if the reader does not spend enough time explaining what came before. There is a thin line between informing the reader and handing out too much information. After the first five or six books, I believe the Myth Adventures cross that line.

There are other technical problems as the series progresses. The worst, in my estimation is the breaking of the fourth wall. In one book Skeeve himself tells the reader to go out and buy the previous books. I find that crass in an author’s foreword, and completely jarring and out of place in the actual text. I’m sure it was meant to be cute, but it fell flat.

Bob, himself tell us in M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link that he did not want to just write the same old stories over and over again. I don’t blame him. That’s the reason I have not written one of my own Down Time, Ltd. stories in years – anything I come up with is just more of the same. In his case the decision must have been more difficult to make since he had a publisher asking, money in hand, for just that… more of the same… but different. Unfortunately, I do not think his idea of telling stories in the voices of characters other than Skeeve worked out too well in practice. Rather they are uneven, depending on who is talking.

Anyway, even with my disappointments in the middle part of the series, I admit the stories still have enough high points to be worth the time to read. And then Bob teamed up with Jody Lynn Nye.

I only read the first three books Bob write with Ms Nye. Now, I think Jody Lynn Nye is a fantastically talented writer. I like her stories, so mnaybe I just was not ready to see her write Myth Adventures. And first impressions are important. I was dreadfully disappointed by Myth-Told Tales, not from its content but from the fact it was so thin – the book is roughly 3/16” in thickness counting the cover. Some of the previous Myth Adventures were short, but this volume contained 3 stories. They weren’t bad stories, but not particularly memorable either. They were shortly followed up by Myth Alliances. In authors’ forewords both writers admit there were some initial difficulties, and after a “discrete blackout” they were working together. Maybe so, but Myth Alliances reads like they told each other, “You write your chapters, I’ll write mine and I‘ll see you at the next Worldcon.” They do not mesh well and, worse, their chapters tell the same story from two different points of view so by the time I was about one quarter of the way through the book, I knew precisely where it was going and how it was likely to unfold. I was not surprised. It’s a shame, because either half of the story could have stood on its own. Putting them together like that just forced them to upstage each other and hand out spoilers with all the subtlety of a Looney Tunes boulder.

I went on to read their Myth-Take Identity and then lost interest in the rest of the series. That may have been a mistake on my part, but by then I was so busy writing my own substandard stories I really did not have a lot of time to read anyone else’s. One of these days I should probably pick up the rest of the series and see if they ever managed to mesh their styles to come up with the great compilation I think they were both capable of.

However, the stories are not complete rubbish even if I just made some of them sound that way. Even the worst have some sparkling moments that are worth the wait. Read them for yourself and see.

The Audio-Books

Another Fine Myth
Myth Conceptions
Myth Directions

Jeff Woodman does a pretty good job of reading the first three books of the series. His voice is smooth and easy to listen too although I found his performance in the first volume to be a little uneven. Some of his voices are difficult to distinguish from each other and some of his other vocal choices were just strange. I was particularly taken aback by the Deveel, Frumple, sounding like Peter Lorre. Indeed mister Woodman, appears to be proud of his vocal imitations and in the second two books he uses his talents to do a creditable John Wayne for one of the quotes that Asprin used throughout the series to start out each chapter. Unfortunately his Howard Cosell, sounded a bit too much like his John Wayne…

However, I did like his SKeeve voice, which is the one we hear most frequently, but thought his rendition of Aahz should have sounded a bit less like Han Solo.

Hit or Myth
Mything Persons
Little Myth Marker
M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link

I’m not sure just where these recordings came from… oh okay, from the Northwest Foundation for the Blind, Inc. I meant I’m not sure how they came to me. I suspect they were bootlegs and as an author I don’t approve of any form of copyright violation, but they were in the collection and since I had them I decided to listen, review and, thereby, give a plug for the publisher.

When I first heard Ms. Overstreet’s dispassionate reading of the cover text and braced myself for a truly painful experience. All the time I promised myself that if it was as bad as it sounded it would be, I did not have to listen to the rest. I was happily surprised for the most part. Pat Overstreet’s readings are not as smooth and produced as those of Mister Woodman, but she reads the books fairly well. Certainly her voices were well delineated even if, at times, I disagreed with her choices – eg Tananda sounded like Marilyn Monroe. Maybe that’s just me, but I always imagined Tanda as a contralto.

These recordings were obviously not professionally produced. You can hear the clicks of the recording device frequently as Ms. Overstreet would pause and pick up where she left off. A professional studio would have cleaned those off, but keep in mind who was producing this and the clicks aren’t all that much of an issue and easy to ignore after a bit.

Her performance is hardly perfect (is there such a thing as a perfect performance, really?) and she obviously never heard of Modesty Blaise (whose name she pronounces as “blasé” ). Her worst choice of voice had to be that of Guido the Mob bodyguard, but then Guido may have been Bob’s worst choice of narrator in the M.Y.T.H. Inc. stories. Ms Overstreet chose to  portray Guido with a high raspy voice which, combined with Asprin’s faux-Runyonesque speech patterns, made Guido’s narrations as painful to listen to as they had been to read. I imagine those bits were fun to write, but as a reader I found them annoying. As a listener I found myself praying for the end of the chapter. Good thing I do not have a copy of M.Y.T.H.Inc. in Action as an audio book as that story is entirely narrated by Guido… Ouch!

Guido aside, I feel both readers did a creditable and entertaining job. Certainly if you’re a fan of the MythAdventures and like listening to audio books, I can recommend these. I’m not sure if you’ll be able to find Pat Overstreet’s recordings, but they do add an interesting perspective on the series.

This entry was posted in Audio Books, Books, Commentary, Fantasy, Reviews, Robert Asprin. Bookmark the permalink.

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