Audio books have a lot to offer readers and non-readers alike, but there appear to be few offerings in the motorcycle adventure travel genre. At the time of writing, a search of market leader Audible.com returned only six titles. Given that two of these are by Sam Manicom, he may well be the most prolific author in this particular field.
Sam is an established motorcycle travel author, having published a four-book series charting the years he spent riding the globe. He’s also written about some of his more recent adventures in Overland Magazine, so his name may already be familiar to you – but perhaps not his voice, about which more later.
‘Under Asian Skies’ is the second volume to be published both as a book and an audio book. The story describes two years spent riding from Australia to Europe by way of New Zealand, South East Asia, the Indian sub-continent, Iran and back into Europe via Turkey; “an enthralling journey through one of the world’s most colourful and diverse regions”.
Shipping in to Australia, Sam’s remaining fuel and food money suddenly wasn’t going as far as it had in Africa, and so this part of the trip became an exercise in living cheaply and finding ways to make money along the way. It didn’t help that almost as soon as he arrived both he and the bike were nearly totalled
“… the blue van smashed into the bike from the left. It hurled us across to the central reservation, and I ended up wedged under the bike with petrol pouring out of the carburettors onto my legs. It happened in an instant, and after a long moment of stunned silence, suddenly all my senses were working on full power. The reeking petrol was stinging my skin through my trousers. The earth and grass by my nose, heated by the midday sun, smelt dry and held the tang of pollution.”
Perhaps not surprisingly for such a long journey, there are times when Sam and his bike Libby have to sit things out for a while, recuperating, reassessing and finally reasserting themselves in a world that can be unpredictable. More than most motorcycle travel stories, ‘Under Asian Skies’ provides the reader, or the listener, with a rider’s eye-view not only from the saddle, but also the seat of a car, or bus, or the back of a pick-up truck. These episodes provide great insight to the traveller’s experience of other people encountered along the way – some rooted in the same place all their lives, others on the road in search of work and adventure.
Audio books take us closer to the very core of story-telling, an art that pre-dates the written word. Listening allows us to pick-up on meanings and emotions through changes in the story-teller’s inflections, or their rendition of different characters’ voices, all of which can reveal so much more of the underlying context – providing they have understood the material. Audio books also allow the reader to engage with the story in a different way, the more so when the original author narrates their own work – provided they do it well.
Sam’s narration scores well in both respects. He manages to imbue the recording with a sense of remembering each event as it unfolds. His voice is clear and welcoming as befits a story that is full of honesty, humour and descriptive detail where the little events, thoughts and conversations are just as compelling as the pivotal points in the story.
Sam may not be a professional voice artist, but that works in his favour as the experience of listening to his reading voice is very much the same as hearing him recount his tales in real life. Once he’s got in to his stride during the introductory chapters, his well-measured style of delivery carries the listener at a natural pace.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for accepting the challenge of gleaning all this by reading the written word, but if you don’t feel the need to work it all out for yourself, or if you just want to make more use of the times when reading a book isn’t practical, here’s an enjoyable and rewarding alternative.
With so many devices capable of storing and playing audio books (MP3 player, CD player, home computer, laptop, Kindle, etc.) it’s easy to see why audio books are growing in popularity. Whether you’re just thinking about trying one out or have already joined the growing numbers of readers that have found a place for listening, ‘Under Asian Skies’ deserves your attention.
Review by Nich Brown
Under Asian Skies: Australia to Europe by Motorcycle – an enthralling journey through one of the World’s most colourful and diverse regions.
Written and narrated by: Sam Manicom
Length: 11 hrs and 40 mins
Release Date: 08/07/2014
Publisher: Open Book Audio
Program Type: Audiobook
Also available, ‘Into Africa’ by Sam Manicom – Open Book Audio, 2012