Long Drives Need Excellent Stories

Traditionally this is the weekend to suddenly realize that summer is nearly over and it's time to panic and try and cram some last-ditch hot weather activities into the three-day weekend. For many of us this means a long trip to the beach or the mountains or the woods. Driving is nice but it's exponentially nicer when you have something terrific to listen to as you zoom along. Once again I'm here to help with some suggestions for books on tape or CD read by some fantastic voice talents. But wait, there's more; I've also got another theme song to enhance your column reading experience. Naturally it's called Drive and is by Jonathan Coulton and it's about someone who may not be terribly eloquent but makes up for his lack of articulation with a pure passion for motion.

Dean Koontz likes to mix up his work, sometimes writing suspense, sometimes supernatural horror and occasionally doing something quite different. His book Ticktock is a screwball comedy with horror elements and a cast of characters that includes a relentless voodoo doll/demon, a wisecracking blonde and a mystery writer called Tommy Phan. Equal parts funny and frightening, Ticktock is a fast moving, exciting story that will keep you guessing. Narrator BD Wong (Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) does a beautiful job voicing all the characters and is utterly believable expressing Tommy's angst as he is torn between his Vietnamese roots and his love of all things American, whether that's a Corvette, a greasy hamburger or a dizzy blonde waitress.

If there were one writer that it might be easy to resent, it would be Catherine Asaro. Not only does she have a PhD in chemical physics and an MA in physics, she's also a gorgeous former ballerina who writes wonderful hard science fiction and fantasy books with a strong romantic element. If it weren't for the fact that she's extremely nice and fun to talk with, you could be tempted give in to a little old fashioned jealousy. But she is so you walk away determined to give her books a try and you're glad you did. Catch the Lightning takes place in the Skolian Empire series and it's the story of Tina, a rather poor and empathic girl struggling to survive in Los Angeles who meets a strange yet compelling man one night who turns out to be a stranded interstellar fighter pilot. He's got golden skin, purple hair and says he's got so many mechanical parts that he's not truly human. He helps her when she's attacked by a rival gang and as she helps him in return she's drawn into a plot to overthrow the entire Empire. Complex, riveting and intriguing, this book is much more than your standard space opera. Read by Anna Fields, the audio version suffers a little in that there is some confusion with words that sound alike, notably the psiber web, which sounds just like cyber web but refers to a psionic net. Despite small irritants like this Catch the Lightning is a fabulous road companion.

A few years ago I spent a few months driving from DC to New York and back again on the weekends. Luckily for me I discovered an incredible voice talent, Frank Muller, who has recorded quite a few books and done a wonderful job with every one I heard. I particularly enjoyed his rendition of Richard Bachman's The Regulators, a horror story about a town besieged by characters from a kid's television show, bent on destroying everything and everyone they see. There's also a crazed ancient entity, an autistic child, deformed vultures and coyotes and all the other elements you need for chaos and fear. Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon, A Hollywood Ghost Story is also exemplary, with Muller doing almost too good a job, especially when he reads the part of Qwaftzefoni, a bizarre character that appears towards the end of the story. The book is about Todd Pickett, a mega movie star who is hiding from the world to recover from botched plastic surgery. His biggest fan, Tammy Lauper, is obsessed with unraveling his secrets and follows him to the mansion where he's in seclusion, only to find that the truth is much queerer than she could have imagined. Todd is enthralled with a woman who was a star in silent films but appears just as lovely and young as she did nearly a hundred years ago. Like many of Clive Barker's works this book is populated with strange man/animal hybrids and has a portal to another world, this one called the Devil's Country, which is enticing but dangerous. A lush, flamboyant, fantastical haunted house story, Coldheart Canyon works on many levels.

This week we have a one-sentence review from A Silent Observer who has a comment about Chrono Cross, a PlayStation 1 game. "The best thing about this RPG is that every time you play the game you can take a different path and get a fresh gaming experience." Have you got a one-sentence review you’d like to submit to Quality Time? Send it in to me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com and I'll run the best ones. You may focus on just about anything that fits a family entertainment format; games, movies, books, music - there is no limit.