Saturday, May 05, 2012

A Different Kind of Audiobook.Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

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A Different Kind of Audiobook.Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

Stories have always been a source of Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zeroinspiration for musicians, but this illustrated cyberpunk anthology turns the tables by using music as an idea catalyst for the authors of these stories. A group of twenty-eight authors, musicians and graphic artists have combined their talents under the name of “The Very Us Artists” to createForeshadows. It’s a near-future world that is dark and gritty, but not without hope.

For this project, the musicians got first crack at describing the Foreshadows world. How will life change as society continues to deteriorate, mega-corporations vie for world dominance, and technology blurs reality with fantasy? Nineteen songs later, the music-makers had their answers and then invited various authors to select a song they liked and write a story to go along with it, reflecting that author’s perception of Foreshadows society. This unique approach gives those who purchase the book an intriguing bonus, as all of the songs are included on a CD in the back of the book. Those who prefer to download an e-book will receive the text and an MP3 file of the music.

I’ll admit that reviewing a title in this format was a bit challenging. Do you listen to the song before reading the accompanying story or do you listen after you’ve read the story? Or, do you listen to all of the songs first or read the stories all together, experiencing each different format as a separate entity?

After tying variations on all of the above, I came to the conclusion that there’s no right or wrong way to experience this work. However, I’ll admit that I most enjoyed reading the story first and then listening to its song. That offered a few extra minutes to reflect back on the story while trying to identify musical connections to the text. It was a bit like going on a musical game of hide and seek, which added to my appreciation and enjoyment of the story.

Both the text and the music offer an engaging variety of styles, themes, and topics. The music gives listeners a satisfying blend of ambient, industrial, electronica, rock, and soundtrack. Some tunes include lyrics, but many are instrumental or have minimal voice work. The stories themselves often deal with the personal and societal consequences war, the widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and the ever-increasing corruption of technology into a tool for vast power or total escape from reality.

Imagination runs rampant in stories exploring the motivations and machinations of individuals trying to cope with their circumstances. Sometimes they are human and sometimes they are more (or less) than human. And while all stories reflect the Foreshadows universe, the collection contains such a diverse cast of characters and situations that there is nothing predictable about what you’ll encounter in the next adventure.

For example, in “Love Simulacra,” a private investigator depends on the advanced artificial intelligence of his robot to survive dangerous assignments. When the machine requires extensive repairs, he modifies it to look like his first girl-friend. It’s then he discovers that love can become very complicated, whether you’re a man or a machine. The song is a pounding, energy-driven confirmation of true love and the lyrics are perfect – especially after reading the story. “Love Simulacra” was written by Joe Rixman with music and lyrics by Bilian.

Another story, “Cold as the Gun,” also features a private investigator, but Harley Trace is an old school detective. His office is located in a decrepit area called the Unders, his ancient psi-jack malfunctions with new equipment, and his weapon of choice is an old-time Glock – not a fancy neuroneedler. When an executive type from way above in the Ivories pays him a visit, Trace accepts an unusual assignment.

However, things are never as they appear, and this is an ingenious tale of twists and turns created especially for gumshoe fans. The accompanying music is an effective mix of ambient, electronica, vocals and sound effects that seem, in part, to reflect the tension and malevolent environment described in the story. It’s a song that really grows on you. “Cold as the Gun” was written by Robert J. Randisi, with music and lyrics by Joshua Wentz, featuring Jessica Risker.

One of my favorite contributions is “Deep in the Deep: Reaction-Diffusion Dies Tonight.” It seems that the Seattle Public Library is slowly dying — giving up its space to house the homeless. As the city’s financial crisis continues to grow, officials warn that the library’s Reaction-Diffusion Cold Computer will be allowed to thaw in order to save electricity.

The loss of untold amounts of frozen data is unfathomable to the librarians who maintain the computer, but its destruction seems inevitable. As a librarian myself, it was fun to cheer for the home team, so to speak, as they struggle to save much of the planet’s recorded history. The musical counterpart for their bibliographic efforts seems to represent data or information, with lots of beebs and and drones encased in an ambient flow.

There are many other things to discover in this world, including the incredibly popular Stomp Brawl, collecting the mysterious dodec artifacts, addictive memories, and virtual realities for this life and the one beyond. There’s also the Geist, a legendary creature always seeking power sources from which to feed. “It was a shadow in the night sky, an apparition with spectral wings and unknown powers. Feeding off real and artificial life like a vampire.”

The Geist is scattered among a few of the stories, chronicling the efforts of a lone hunter to destroy the dark enigma. In “Geist Eidetic 3:4” the hunter conducts meticulous research to discover the lair of the legendary creature. Each of the songs that accompany tales about the Geist incorporate thematic riffs which serve to link the different songs about the Geist, though they vary widely in style and tempo. It’s a nice touch. “Geist Eidetic 3:4” was written by Jeff LaSala and John LaSala, with music by Dylan Leeds plus Alternate Modes of Underwater Consciousness, Thee Crumb and Ali Kilpatrick. Below is a music sample from this title:

The story of the Geist is compelling and it’s well-worth the purchase of the entire collection for this story-arc alone. But there are plenty of other great stories here, not to mention the interpretive music that has something for all tastes. The music collection can easily stand by itself and it’s likely that some selections will find themselves on your “favorites” playlist.

Ironically, once you associate a song with a story, it’s almost impossible to hear the song without recalling the story line. It’s not unlike a music video — after watching, you can’t help but remember the video scenes when you hear the music again. But in this case, the music triggers memories of scenes from a book, and that’s amazing. It’s also a testament to the power of music and story, as well as to the creativity of those who are part of this unique collaboration. I’m looking forward to more “audiobook” creations from The Very Us Artists.

You can purchase the book, as well as find more information about Foreshadows and those who’ve created it at their website,

Susan Dunman is an audiobook fanatic, no matter the format. Check out her online index of links to thousands of online audiobook reviews at Audiobook Jukebox.

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