Listen up!

With the recent release of Raven’s Flight and having just delivered the Aenarion text to Black Library, audiobooks have been on my mind lately. There’ve been some people who have expressed disappointment (not to mention a small number displaying unseemly annoyance) that the audiobooks will not be available as printed word.

As far as I know (which isn’t far, I admit) there are no plans to produce printed versions of the Black Library audiobooks. I agree with this completely. Raven’s Flight was conceived and written as an audiobook, which means that it is intended to be listened to, not read. The way it is written is different from the way I would have gone about telling the story if it had been printed, and I am not sure that it would as satisfying an experience in the written form.

Like a screenplay or comic script, an audiobook manuscript must take into account the final form of the piece – in this case one that is read aloud and heard. A listener receives and interprets information in a different way to a reader (this is called ‘parsing’) so an audiobook must be written with these limitations in mind. Dilaogue is more script-like and descriptions shorter and broken down into easier-to-digest chunks. It is harder for a listener than a reader to absorb relevant information if provided in too much bulk, and a traditionally-written story could lead to some rewinding and re-listening that would break the flow of the story.

The same is true of books adapted for audio. Although some are presented as unabridged recordings, most books transferred to audio are edited for the format to aid comprehension. There are also other tricks of presentation that work in audio that would not work on the written page – and vice versa.

The other part of the Black Library audiobooks, and others, is that they are not simply a reading of the text. The story contains a musical score and sound effects (something I was even more conscious of with Aenarion) which all add to a very different experience. The musical score in particular I find intriguing. While writing, certain tracks will come on to my playlist that just absolutely fit with what I am writing. I have mentioned before that ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ was playing whilst I wrote one of the battle scenes of Malekith (and ‘Oh, Fortuna!’ furing others). During Raven’s Flight there is a scene where the Primach Corax surveys the aftermath of the dropsite massacre. It was just as I was starting this piece that my iTunes saw fit to play a section from the Watchmen soundtrack entitled ‘Just Look Around You’. Not only is the title totally fitting, the piece itself is very poignant and struck a chord (ho ho!) with what I was writing. The original score on the audiobook is as much part of that scene as the words.

So, for those that somehow think that audiobooks are less worthy than the printed word, think again. I would recommend putting aside an hour and a quarter and experiencing one in a single sitting, enjoying every element of the production as well as the story. I hope you’ll find it every bit as rewarding as the printed page.

Real live stuff: Reminder that I’ll be at GW Liverpool on Saturday between 12-2pm.

Current Reading: The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.

Recent Reading: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett,  Imperium by Robert Harris,  Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (highly recommend) and The Affinity Bridge by BL’s own George Mann.

Watching: Enjoyed the first episode of the new series of Being Human. Highly ambivalent about the Dr Who holiday specials… The most drawn-out regeneration in history! Still, looking forward to more Dr Who in 2010. Not much else been on recently. 24 due to start again soon, and Lost further down the line.

Playing: GTA4. Some of the scripting and voice acting is awesome, and I don’t quite understand the controversy when we have plenty of books, films, TV series and comics that portray and aggrandise gangsters and criminal activity. For example, two of the most acclaimed works of the past decades – The Godfather trilogy and The Sopranos – are about very unsavoury characters with whom the audience are supposed to empathise. Let’s forget the whole ‘computer games are evil’ bollocks shall we?

Published in: on January 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm  Comments (21)  

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  1. The thing is, you are not able to stop curious readers, they will find some speech-to-text processors or there will be some maniac who will write everything up. And because of this you can give him print version “with less pleasure” and be good guy for him, or you can say “listen!”, but he will do things his way and will blame you as someone who makes his life difficult.


  2. Mr. Thorpe…your comments regarding keeping Raven’s Flight amongst others as audiobook only are fine. I have no disagreements with it, in fact introducing musical scores to certain scenes as trhey happen can enrich the experience. The only thing that I have a problem with is the possibility of shutting out a small percentage of your readers who might not have the ability to hear.


    • A valid point, and one could argue that printed short stories and novels should be available for the blind and visually impaired. Such is the nature of markets, though, that I can’t see this being commercially viable except for the most popular of titles (with publishing in general, not just BL). I can’t see there being much demand for a LARGE PRINT version of Shadow King, for instance!

      But who knows? We’ll find out what BL plan to do in the months and years to come…


  3. I’m with you on the appallingly long regeneration scene from the holiday Doctor Who. It reeked horrendously of Russell T. Davies patting himself on the back and saying ‘Lo! There do I see just about every companion and special guest I have brought in over the last five years!’ It was a shame, really, because the regeneration moment itself was sort of sad.

    Slightly better than faces spinning around his head, I suppose.

    And Being Human series 2 promises much – enjoyed the first episode, very interested to see where it goes. Have you been following the online podcasts/etc. from the tie in?


    • Yeah, and it also had the suspicious feel of ‘putting all the toys back in the box’ about it. So Russel T brings back the Daleks, Cybermen, Master and the Timelords and then ends his reign with a story that ensures that they’re all been neatly packed away again where nobody canplay with them without breaking open the box. The nice guy in me would say that was cleaning the slate for the writers, the most realistic guy in me thinks it’s a little arrogant.

      Still, I’m really looking forward to Steven Moffat’s time in charge.


      • RTD’s a strange fish. He seems to come over as a pretty pleasant sort of guy, but you’re right – this does smack a little of putting his toys where nobody else can reach them.

        However… Steven Moffat has the weeping angels and they’re fabulously creepy.


      • I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the Dr Who episodes that have won awards are those written by Mr Moffat…


  4. My initial reaction was: “Audio only, that sucks”, however I have recently listened to a whole load of Asimov stories and thoroughly enjoyed them.
    Writing for audio format makes sense, I hadn’t considered that.

    Bad Science is great, I also check out regularly.

    Back to watching Better Off Ted for me 🙂


    • Thanks for reminding about the Bad Science website! I was meaning to add that tomy favourite links…


  5. As much as I enjoy the fact that you took the time to explain the differences that are being attempted with the audio performances to the people who have been misunderstanding what is being attempted with these projects (that are fantastic by the way, I’ve enjoyed each one, keep it up!), I have to completely disagree with you on your argument of the differences of audio books vs. written books.

    “A listener receives and interprets information in a different way to a reader (this is called ‘parsing’) so an audiobook must be written with these limitations in mind. Dilaogue is more script-like and descriptions shorter and broken down into easier-to-digest chunks. It is harder for a listener than a reader to absorb relevant information if provided in too much bulk, and a traditionally-written story could lead to some rewinding and re-listening that would break the flow of the story.”

    I think you are severely underestimating the audience here. Perhaps harder for you, but not for others. I’m a avid reader of printed books and I enjoy audio books a great deal as well. If you don’t pay attention, then yes…you will get lost. If you are listening, then you can completely understand what is occurring. People have read books aloud for as long as there have been printed books. To make an excuse for your audio releases being treated as limited is simply ignorant. I’m not trying to be insulting here, but you are assuming a lot with this reasoning. If your audio performance is strictly written for that particular form, don’t make excuses. Just state what was intended with the project and leave it at that.

    “The same is true of books adapted for audio. Although some are presented as unabridged recordings, most books transferred to audio are edited for the format to aid comprehension. There are also other tricks of presentation that work in audio that would not work on the written page – and vice versa.”

    Where is the basis for this statement? In the United States there is a large market for audio book versions of printed books. They can be found in ANY major bookstore. Many people prefer the unabridged version, and in my understanding the number one reason they release “abridged” versions is cost and time.

    What exactly do you mean by “tricks of presentation” that a printed word would have but not be able to translate to a written form? There are a number of “readers” who are unable or struggle with the written word. My own brother for example, is an avid reader of audio books. He suffers from an extreme form of dyslexia, which makes reading a printed words a constant struggle. Thanks to audio book performances he has become very well read. He has an extensive collection of audio books, including many best sellers by a variety of high end authors. They seem to be able to have their books read aloud without any problem, and from my research into this market for the sake of my brother, it would seem my brother is not unusual. There are many people out there like him, and many others who just enjoy listening to a story. I find it unfortunate that I can’t get him an unabridged audio performance of William King’s fantastic Space Wolf stories, because Black Library feels that granting people the ability to rewind and re-listen to the story being read would disrupt the flow of the story or that there are tricks of presentation that just wouldn’t work for him.

    Do you understand what I’m trying to say here?

    If this is your personal opinion, which it seems to be, please be clear in your statement of this argument. You assumed much in your intended defense of the audio performances and underestimate the power of this particular medium to reach people. For the record, the audio performances are fantastic. If there was enough of a demand of a written version from Black Library’s fans, once you have enough audio plays recorded and released, why not release a printed collection of scripts? I’d let the market make that decision, but that’s just my opinion.

    It is my hope that you and Black Library will reconsider your stance on this, because I would love to be able to provide a gift of unabridged audio book versions of your most popular releases to my brother. This is a selfish hope, but again perhaps the market will one day dictate it. The audio performances so far are fantastic and I hope they continue.

    Thanks for your time.


    • Hi there,

      It’s not a matter of opinion on my part, but rather established scientific fact that different parts of the brain are used to parse information depending on the form of input that information takes. You can find a nice summary here:

      I have nothing against unabridged audio versions of books, but it has to be accepted that depending on how the prose is written, such version may require considerable concentration to appreciate fully. If Raven’s Flight is to be published in written form at some point in the future, I would ask BL to give me the opportunity to edit it for that medium – not to change the story, but to alter the presentation to be more suited to the written format. Nick Kyme covers something similar in his blog entry here:

      “It’s worth noting, I think, that this is written in prose style and not script and won’t be available for some time, certainly not in this form. It’s also very likely that the script version will differ slightly from my original words in order to suit the spoken medium, so this is a bit of a unique thing.”

      The other real element that limits novels being recorded unabridged is the simple length. Raven’s Flight was written at roughly 10,000 words, and a couple of scenes had to be shortened or cut to fit that into an hour and fifteen minutes. Even one of the slimmest BL novels clocks in at around 75,000 words, so that would be eight hours at least, which translates into considerably more than eight hours of recording time. Considering most novels are between 100,000 and 150,000 words these days, that’s quite an expense.

      Will BL release a multi-cd audio collection at some point? I would expect so. I would also expect it to be abridged in some fashion. I am also intrigued to see how technology might develop in the future that will make audiobooks more widely available – the rise of e-books and text-to-speech translators may help in this regard.


  6. Good points here, Gav, as ever.

    I too have heard some questions as to why there are no text versions of the audio books, and as you rightly say, it’s because these stories are written from the ground up to be performed in that medium.
    The audio ‘element’ of the tales is part of the way the story is told, it’s not just window-dressing, in the same way that a comicbook script would be dry and flat without the artwork to accompany it.


    • The script analogy is a really good one. How many people would refuse to see Avatar and insist on being able to read the script instead because they ‘prefer reading’?


  7. It is not correct to compare reading vs listening with reading vs watching.
    There are a lot of (or at least quite a little) people who has english as a foreign language, and whose abilities in it don’t allow them to comprehend the foreign audio. In other words, they can read english, but can’t listen to english (they do not understand what they hear).
    Luckily I am capable of understanding foreign audio.
    And can say that ‘Raven’s Flight’ is definitely the best audiobook of all published by BL!! 100%


  8. In your superb audiobook ‘Raven’s Flight’ it is said that there were four Raven Guard commanders beside Corax.
    If I am not mistaken three of them were named, and the fourth was not.
    First three were: Agapito, Aleni and Selero. Is that right spelling of their names?
    Fourth one: … Do you know him? =)
    Thank you very very much. It was a real pleasure listening to the ‘Raven’s Flight’. The feelings of Corax and his thoughts and reasonings… brilliant!


    • Hi Gildor,

      The commander’s names were lifted from the Horus Heresy collectible card game by Sabretooth (as featured in the Collected Visions book):
      Solaro, Commander of the bike squads (and by extension any speeders or anything similar left after the massacre)
      Aloni, Commander of the Falcons (reformed Tactical companies)
      Agapito Talons (reformed Assault companies)
      The missing Commander is Arendi, once captain of the Bodyguard, now Commander of the remaining support troops (devastators, mole mortars, etc).

      However, I envisaged these formations being a temporary organisation following the loss of so many troops and officers, and the Raven Guard would revert to a more traditional structure once it had started to build up its numbers (or at least attempted to build up numbers!).


  9. First off, I’ll voice my support for the new audio ‘drama’ format. I wasn’t keen on it at the start but the quality performance of the actors reading it, and the occasionally good effects added made it work (I say ‘occasionally because for instance the looped grunts in Thunder from Fenris made the fight scenes utterly laughable).

    I’d also like to add that Raven’s Flight is indeed one of the better audio dramas yet released by BL, though I personally rate the Dark King highest, so far.

    What I would like to criticize, however, is the plot behind the ‘drama’. Especially so with Raven’s Flight, the plot is simply weak. I’m sorry if this may offend you Gav, but it made no sense. I realize there isn’t a lot of room in 75 minutes to explain everything, but there were too many gaping maws between the scenes. One moment the Raven Guard are using the Iron Warriors as target practice (stubborn and unimaginative as they may be, they won’t simply advance blindly against an enemy), then the next they’ve been surrounded by the World Eaters (the galaxy’s most single-minded butchers). And then simply bringing a dozen dropships out of the blue in a Deus Ex Machina fashion to save a few thousand marines and get away with them while the traitors had entire fleets in orbit and not offer a single explanation as to HOW that could be achieved… I was disappointed.

    I can tell you had to make cuts in order to fit the time, but please, next time, don’t cut into the plot, cut into the superfluous the-Primarch-killed-a-marine-by-throwing-a-rock-in-his-throat scenes. They may be cool but explaining how a few thousand marines got carried off by a destroyer escaping half of the traitor fleets is cooler.


    • It might not be surprising that I disagree with your analysis of the plot of Raven’s Flight, although I do agree that any short fiction format that tries to cover a substantial chunk of time and events will have to cut its cloth to fit. I don’t think it’s always desirable even when there is space to detail every single thing that happens to the characters, as long as the writer gives enough dots for the reader/ listener/ viewer to join.

      The Iron Warriors column you mention is one of several that have been sent to find the Raven Guard. The fact that they are Iron Warriors, specialists in static combat, going against the Raven Guard, who excel are mobile combat, is the point being made. Also bear in mind that although they have suffered horrendous casualties, in this engagement the Raven Guard outnumbered their prey by roughly ten-to-one.

      The unspoken part – the bit I would hope listeners can realise for themselves – is that the Traitors adapt their war against the Raven Guard, realising that they cannot go piecemeal against an enemy that is so versed in hit-and-run attacks. Corax sees this mobilisation when he investigates the Urgall depression. Over the course of some sixty days, the Traitors end up commiting more and more resources against the Raven Guard survivors, columinating in sending the entire World Eaters legions against Corax once the Raven Guard have been denied anywhere left to run.

      And I totally disagree that the ending is Deus ex Machina – a third of the story is dedicated to the possibility of a rescue attempt. Bear in mind that this is the story of Corax, even the bits about Valerius and Bran. While it may be interesting as a purely logistical description to know how the Traitor cordon is breached for long enough to extricate the Raven Guard survivors, it is by no means essential to the narrative. Again, this goes back to the Raven Guard’s excellence in this area of warfare. If anyone was going to find a way to get in and out quickly, it would Bran and those he is leading. In my mind, the description of Corax in action is essential to understanding what he is and how he thinks – more vital to the story than any description of the orbital leading up to the pivotal moment at the end. Just to make it clear, this is a story about Corax, not the Raven Guard as a whole. Also, as a matter of pacing and structure, the tension for the climax of the story is left in the balance with it not being known whether Bran will actually back Valerius or open fire. This dramatic poise would be lost if we later show that Bran has said yes and the question then just becomes one of whether he physically succeeds. Its is Bran’s willingness to risk his reputation on Valrerius’s assertaions that saves the Raven Guard, not his actions, if you see what I mean.

      Well, that’s what I had in mind while writing it… I’m still glad you enjoyed Raven’s Flight despite your different view of things.


  10. I’ve enjoyed all your work Mr. Thorpe and I will definitely give Ravens Flight a go. Although i’ve never experienced an audio book can’t pass up anything on the Heresy I’m sure it will be the start of something new for me. This is the first I’ve heard about anything regarding Aenarion and that is exciting news I have thought how great that would be since first reading Malekith. Does anyone at BL have any interest in a story or book about Grimnir? Anyway keep up the great work your books are some of the best i’ve read and still a source of enjoyement.

    Thanks for taking my comment,

    Chad Kotka


  11. Audiobooks are fine for all of you, but I’m hearing impaired- what am I supposed to do about this? I know Butcher’s Nails is coming up and I love the World Eaters but I guess I’ll never get to experience the story for myself because you insist on audio-only.

    Did you ever even stop to consider the deaf? That’s extremely insensitive and shortsighted of you and Black Library.


    • I empathise with your position and I’m sure you’ll be heartened to know that you’ll be able to enjoy the Raven’s Flight story when it is published in the forthcoming Shadows of Treachery anthology. I am sure that Butcher’s Nails will see print version one day too.

      As for the principle, I stick with my original opinion that people who are capable of listening to an audio book/ drama and moan that they ‘prefer reading a proper book’ are missing the point of it being written for and performed in audio. I’m tired of every audio and digital release from BL being greeted with a chorus of naysayers complaining that they want it in a proper format; it reeks of entitlement.




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