It should come as no surprise that the folks at Archaic Triad prefer printed books to e-books and audio books alike. Physical objects are prime windows to many things right and beautiful, and while they should not be made into idols, they are often excellent as icons. That being said, audio books can come in handy. If you like dozing off to a good story, or need to do menial tasks with your hands and still want a little literary stimulus, there are few better tools.
Then we face the problem that commercially produced audio books often are expensive, some prohibitively so. The limitless supply of free audio books available on the internet, on the other hand, is usually of uneven quality. Good narration is in fact a rather difficult art, and the vast majority of amateurs trying their hand at the audiobook game do not quite make the cut. The notion that “you get what you pay for” is generally speaking true for any goods or service, and this includes folks reading books aloud on Youtube. However, it is also on Youtube we find one of the most interesting exceptions to this rule of thumb.
About six years ago, special effects artist Edward E. French decided to start recording himself reading various classics of Horror, Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Over the years, the amount of content has grown steadily, and at this time Edward E French’s Fiction Fantastique channel holds an impressive little library of macabre and mysterious tales. As he has progressed, he has experimented with adding music and making other minor adjustments. The most important part, the actual reading, has been pretty much top notch since the very beginning, though there have been minor improvements in execution since the time when the first chapters of The Island of Doctor Moreau were uploaded six years ago. No suspiciously adolescent sounding nasal recitation here – Mr. French’s voice is pleasant, deep and comfortable.
The selection of stories is also quite excellent. It includes everything from short one-offs like Marvin Kaye’s “Grumblefritz” and Fitz-James O’Brien’s “The Demon of the Gibbet”, to full length novels like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and The Invisible Man. The channel is heavy on somewhat obscure classics, many of which have been made into movies at one point or another. Joseph Payne Brennan’s “Slime” – twice made into movies as The Blob (1958 and 1988) is perhaps one of the most delightful examples.
The channel suffers from two problems only. The first one is minuscule: the longer tales are usually divided into several separate videos, and it would be good to arrange these into Youtube playlists for ease of listening. The other is strictly speaking not a problem with the actual channel, and that is the absurdly low view-count on the vast majority of the readings. Given that this is apparently a hobby project, it is understandable that Mr. French does not put much time and money into marketing himself. Still, it is somehow morally offensive to me that an excellent reading of “The Birds” by Daphne Du Maurier has been online for four months, and collected a mere 200 views per part.
So, if only to please my sense of justice and morality, head on over to Edward E. French’s Fiction Fantastique, and start enjoying some high quality, free audio book material.