Last weekend, I sat down at the World Science Fiction Convention with Gabrielle de Cuir and Stefan Rudnicki, the owners of Skyboat Media, the studio where Wil Wheaton recorded the audiobook of Homeland, to discuss the state of genre fiction in audio format. Rudnicki — a Grammy-award-winning producer who also took home a Hugo award that weekend along with his colleagues from Lightspeed Magazine — asked me for a wishlist of my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels that would benefit from audio adaptation.
So I started to sing Glimpses' praises: it's a haunting and provocative story about Ray Shackleford, a Austin stereo repairman who is dealing with the death of his cold and distant father and the slow collapse of his marriage. One night, as he is settling down to listen to an old Beatles album and drown his sorrows with a six-pack of beer, he slips into a fugue state, pondering Get Back, the aborted Beatles album that was only partly recovered in the Let It Be sessions. And then, before he knows it, Get Back is coming out of the stereo.
He turns on his tape-deck and hits record. And when he plays it back later, it's still there. An album that never existed, except now it does. Ray's wife doesn't believe it — thinks he's crazy or playing some kind of mind game, but when he pulls strings to get a meeting with an LA record exec who specializes in compilation albums — with a sideline in bootleg pressings of rarities, live recordings and demos — he finds a kindred soul, someone whose life has several music-shaped holes in it, someone who finds in Get Back the answer to an unexpressed question that's been nagging at him for decades.
Shackleford goes into business, recovering a lost Doors album before setting sights on Smile, the Beach Boys' lost magnum opus. And as each album is revealed to him, so too are the stories of the haunted and doomed musicians who made them, and the haunted and doomed secrets of his own past, his relationship with his father and his wife, the lost dreams of a better world that have been obliterated by the Me Decade, Reaganism, the Bush I presidency, and a world that is slowly grinding away the sweetness for which he once lived.
Almost no one can approach Shiner's mastery in capturing the experience of listening to a brilliant song — "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" — and my re-readings of Glimpses over the years have illuminated my understandings of not just the Beatles, but Hendrix, the Doors, and, of course, Brian Wilson's insane experimental music. Even more, the skillful way that Shiner weaves the music into the stories of Ray and the world around him makes them into an inseparable, twined-together braid, a chord of emotion and tension that has moments of heartbreak, joy and even terror.
Having just explained all this to Rudnicki and de Cuir, I found them both to be holding back laughter. "I recorded Glimpses in 2011," he said. "I paid for the sessions out of my own pocket. I loved that book so much."
Needless to say, as soon as the meeting was done, I opened my laptop, went to Downpour.com, and bought the DRM-free Glimpses audiobook for a mere $13. I have just finished listening to it and I was holding back tears by the end. Rudnicki gave a beautiful performance, full of passion and understanding for the text, and the source material is just so good.
If you love rock and roll, fantasy, science fiction and/or audiobooks, I recommend this to you without reservation. And if you want to sample Glimpses, you can buy a reprint of it for $15.
Lewis Shiner — whose name may be familiar to you as one of the original cyberpunk writers, with a story in the seminal Mirrorshades anthology — is a copyfighter, and runs a service on his site called the Fiction Liberation Front where he allows readers to download his short stories and novels for free, under Creative Commons licenses. You can read Glimpses right now, for free, thanks to his generosity.
If you love it — and I think you will — please consider buying either the print or audio edition to support Shiner's ongoing work. He's one of the good ones.
Glimpses [DRM-free audiobook/Downpour.com]