Read by: twtd
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
I was tasked with critiquing twtd’s reading of omg_wtf_yeah’s SGA McShep slash epic, “The Long Engagement,” which is a steam punk AU, featuring John as an acrobat, Jennifer as his adopted sister, most of the cast as members of the Sheppard Circus Company, and Rodney in a frock coat driving a horseless carriage as the leader of Atlantis.
Let me say at the outset that the story was a good choice for a podfic. The character breaks are well defined, the scenes are not confusing, and it is written as a fairly straightforward narrative. There is a confusing switching of POV between John and Rodney during a sex scene that makes the story a bit confusing in that particular spot.
Twtd has a very pleasant reading voice, but there is a tendency to rush the reading somewhat. There is also a definite rhythm to her reading, particularly of descriptive/narrative elements, making every sentence sound nearly the same. While it is not monotonous in tone, it does make it very difficult for the listener not to zone out. With a story of this length, with as much description as is needed for a fantastical AU, this is a problem.
While it is obvious that dialogue requires emotional depth, description is no less in need of it. The descriptive elements, particularly in the steam punk realm, where ingeniousness reigns supreme, require a certain wonder in reading them. What’s more, the author uses the descriptions to set a certain emotional mood. The rainy scenes in part 5, for example, particularly the setting of the scene in the muddy circus camp and in the observation tower, are definitely included to convey to the reader or listener a sense of gloom and boredom. In contrast, the scene where John is practicing on the trapeze in part 2 seems to require lightness and excitement, with respect to John’s feelings when he is flying. [Just an aside that has nothing to do with the podfic and everything to do with the story as written: every time I listened to that scene I wondered how he was flying alone on the trapeze without someone acting as a catcher.]
I got the sense that the reader was just “getting through” the description, rather than focusing on it, listening to it, imbuing it with emotional feeling.
Her McKay is very good, throughout, and her Sheppard’s pretty good, too. She does a creditable job with the secondary characters as well, particularly Elizabeth. In general, I did not note the same rhythm and emphasis problems with dialogue as I did with description. However, the reader seems to shy away from pausing between characters in the midst of a dialogue. There are spots when the sentences ran together, to the extent that in some spots the characters were somewhat indistinguishable. This is particularly true in the pivotal scene of John and Rodney’s falling out in part 4/5.
I was a bit surprised by the fact that, in reading the sex scenes, the intensity of the reading was about the same as before, not differing significantly from any other scene between John and Rodney. Although I don’t necessarily see the need to “porn up” those scenes excessively (since that can be silly and even uncomfortable for reader and listener alike), and a matter of fact reading can be very effective, I felt that this scene, coming as it did on the heels of an argument, and revealing feelings that John, in this instance, has kept hidden from Rodney and to an extent himself, and even, for most of the story from the reader/listener, merited a bit more “oomph.”
I generally take mispronunciations as a matter of course. They annoy me, but I tend to take a very forgiving stance toward podficcers that are kind enough to undertake the effort and time to record a story for us, the fans. There is, however, an exception to this stance, and that is character names and place names from the series. The reader mispronounced “Emmagen,” “Sateda,” and “Satedan.” In my first fanfic, I misspelled Ronon’s name. Several readers called me on it with severity, very rightly. I view mispronunciations of this type in the same light. There were a very few commonplace mispronunciations, about average for podfics I’ve heard: I noted “octagonal,” “rivulets,” “impassable,” and “respite.”
Volume and sound quality was good, for the most part. However, there was a strange variation in part 2 – it was evident that the reading was done in two very different environments, or with two different setups. There was a marked increase/decrease in volume and background noise that was a bit jarring. In a couple of instances, this variation in sound quality marked her edits, which otherwise I would not have noticed. I did not notice any other edits in the fic. Occasionally, there was the same variation between chapters. It was noticeable, but not an insurmountable problem for the reader. There were a few repeated phrases and one case where the reader said “John” when I believe she meant “Jennifer.”
Overall, I think that twtd shows some promise as a podficcer and I would certainly listen to her again. I think her performance could be improved most by slowing down, allowing for breaks in dialogue, and really paying attention to the narrative/descriptive parts, varying the rhythm of the reading as called for by the story.