Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Movies In Your Mind

When I was a bus commuter, I went though books a great deal more rapidly than I do today. These days, I drive myself and I have to keep my eyes on the road. So the to-read pile takes a lot longer to get through than it used to.

However, a happy side effect of this state of affairs is that it has provided an excuse to get my pile of audiobook CDs out of storage and enjoy those in the car on the way to work. Even better, I have been picking up a bunch of discounted audio dramas on CD as well.

Now, these are not old-time radio shows– though there’s a few of those too– but rather, modern stories done for a modern audience, many of them original stories done specifically for audio. I thought I’d list a few of the ones I’ve especially enjoyed over the last few months.

I am very fond of the Captain Sulu Star Trek series from Simon and Schuster.

These are original stories, not adaptations. George Takei returns as Sulu, and the other actors work hard as well. There were three in all: Envoy, Cacophony, and Transformations. I like the last one the best but they’re all a good time.

In addition to Star Trek, there’s also the Alien Voices series that came out a few years ago. This was something that John DeLancie and Leonard Nimoy hatched between them, adapting classic science fiction from H.G. wells and Jules Verne to audio drama.

Naturally they recruited a bunch of Trek actors to help out and you can hear folks like Brent Spiner, Roxann Dawson, and Armin Shimerman along with Nimoy and DeLancie. These were originally on cassette, and not all the productions have made it to CD or Audible downloads, but I think you can still get most of them. Eventually Nimoy and DeLancie caved and did a couple of Trek tie-ins as well, Spock Vs, Q parts one and two.

These were plays they put together for convention audiences and the set is a recording of the live shows. Compilation is on CD here.

Speaking of actors returning to roles that made them famous, there’s also Stacy Keach lending his vocal talents to Blackstone Audio’s The New Adventures of Mike Hammer.

Fair warning– this is not, technically, the true Spillane Hammer. Instead, this is a direct continuation of the television series, brand-new stories done for audio. As such, there are schticks from the TV show that followed over to this production– Mike’s hangout is the Lite-N-Easy, where his informant is Ozzy the Answer, and Mike’s neighbor in his office building is the yoga instructor who’s always getting after him to eat healthy, and so on. I don’t mind. We liked the TV show a lot and have a bunch of it on DVD here. But purists might be a little annoyed. There are three volumes of this as well; I only have the first one, pictured above, but it’s more than enough to sell me on the other two.

Besides which, volumes two and three were scripted by Max Allan Collins, so they probably are closer to the real thing.

(Stacy Keach also is the reader on the audiobook versions of the new Collins/Spillane Hammer books coming out from Hard Case Crime, though those are not full-cast dramatizations like these are.)

There’s also the Doc Savage set from Radio Archives.

These are kind of a cool oddity. They were originally full-cast audio serial dramatizations of Fear Cay and The Thousand-Headed Man done for NPR. The set is terrific and recommended unreservedly. Sadly, it’s out of print and getting it used can be a little spendy, but it’s worth keeping an eye on dealer sites for one.

One of the coolest innovations in audiobooks over the last few years has been the idea of doing a reading AS a full-cast play with sound effects and everything. Harris Yulin pioneered this with his adaptations of Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer novels.

He started with Sleeping Beauty and followed it up with The Zebra-Striped Hearse.

The books are told in the first person, so Yulin does most of the reading, but all of the other characters’ dialogue is done with other actors, and they’re actors with serious chops– Ed Asner, Mary Kay Place, Stacy Keach (again!) and so on. Then they add in the appropriate sound effects and the final product is really quite compelling. Yulin’s voice is pitch-perfect as the world-weary Archer, too. To my great frustration, these productions, as far as I know, only exist as tape cassettes. But they’re definitely worth getting the old boom box out of mothballs. (I keep meaning to ask my brother-in-law if there’s a way he can get these cassettes transferred to CD somehow in his home studio, before they get too old and brittle to play at all.)

But the point I wanted to make is that through Yulin may have pioneered this kind of audio production, Graphic Audio has perfected it.

And here’s the good news– they are not snobs. None of this Alien Voices stuff about only doing the classics. They are going straight for that nerd dollar.

All sorts of SF and fantasy series books, westerns, and they have series books from both Marvel and DC available as well. All of them are done Yulin-style, with a full cast and sound effects, but unabridged. A narrator reads the text and actors play the dialogue and it’s just great fun.

Most of the DC and Marvel ones are adapting licensed novels rather than the actual comics but there are a few of those in there too.

My favorite of the comics adaptations is the production of John Shirley’s Batman: Dead White.

But that’s not my favorite thing Graphic Audio ever put out. That would be the adaptations they did of Mack Bolan, the Executioner.

They cut a deal with the Gold Eagle imprint and did a bunch of these for… I dunno, the truck-stop market, I guess. But they are hilariously awesome and I never get tired of them.

For whatever reason, these adaptations– I think there were fifteen or twenty of them in all– don’t start with the early books that Don Pendleton actually wrote, when Bolan was a lone vigilante taking down the Mafia one scumbag at a time. These are much later entries, when Bolan is a secret superagent of the U.S. fighting James-Bond-sized supervillains all over the world.

Which makes them much more enjoyable as action movies. As the company slogan says, they’re “Movies for your mind!” and that’s exactly how they work.

My wife Julie even enjoys these. The over-the-top macho makes her giggle (occasionally, when we are listening to one in the car, she will punctuate the tough-guy dialogue by adding “Grr!” at the end, which makes ME giggle.) The voice actors really sell it, especially the guy playing Bolan– I THINK his name is Tom Penny, it’s hard to tell from the credits sometimes. But Mr. Penny, or whoever, is amazing. Even when he’s just a special guest star on the Stony Man stories he overpowers everyone with his macho Bolan growl.

Unfortunately, with the Gold Eagle imprint retired, Graphic Audio is no longer offering the direct download audio files, but the CDs are available used all over Amazon for not very much money.

Anyway, that’s how we’ve been amusing ourselves to and from work the last month or so.

Also, in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I should add that I myself have a few audiobooks available on Audible.com. Something Airship 27 put together with Radio Archives, they’re download only. But it’s cool to hear my words getting performed by a reader. I think the Black Bat guy came closest to nailing it the way I hear it in my head but I enjoyed all of them. Do check them out if you’ve a mind to.

Back next week with something cool.


  1. Roc Kit

    It’s been a while since I’ve checked in with any of them, but I’ve enjoyed listening to a lot of hours of dramatic podcasts like The Truth, Welcome to Nightvale, and Thrilling Adventure Hour. The gold standard for me is Selected Shorts.

    Something about a full book size seems a little intimidating to me (whether or not it’s fully dramatized), maybe it’s just because I also really like reading books.

  2. M-Wolverine

    If you’re going to mind worm me, only fair to return the favor.


    It’d be funny to date each packaging, to see when the came out, and how many of them just happen to have artwork that looks like other actors (some who played similar roles) and how many were done before that person even became famous, and it’s just a happy coincidence and the mind forming connections.

  3. Le Messor

    “I keep meaning to ask my brother-in-law if there’s a way he can get these cassettes transferred to CD somehow in his home studio, before they get too old and brittle to play at all.”

    What I do is, I plug my stereo into my computer and use Audacity (which is a free download and a useful program) to record the tape, then I make that a .wav file and I put that on a CD. iTunes is useful for that.

      1. Le Messor

        Yeah, I use it to put tapes onto iTunes. We also use it to record the sermons at church.

        It’s also useful for saying ‘You’ve got a lot of Audacity’ every time somebody asks me how to put a tape onto digital media.

        Yes, every time.

        No wonder people lose patience with me.

  4. Great, I’m assuming you are familiar with Big Finish? They are a company that have been producing original licensed full cast audio dramas of Doctor Who for years, long before the series was revived in 2005, utilizing actors and concepts of the original series and more recently, some of the modern series as well. But in addition to Doctor Who they do stories with all sorts of other familiar franchises, like Sapphire & Steel, The Avengers (Steed & Peel), The Survivors, Blake’s 7, The Night of the Triffids, The Prisoner, etc.

    I love audio dramas and have been producing my own for a long time as well, albeit with much less professional standards. It started as fun with my friends, and eventually turned into fun with my kids.

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