The Sagan Diary: The Audio Version

I have something special for you today, and something I am extraordinarily proud of. To celebrate the release of “The Sagan Diary,” (which you can get through Subterranean’s Web site and through Amazon) I and Subterranean Press have arranged for a reading of the book — the entire novelette — here on the Whatever. But it’s not me who will be reading the book. “The Sagan Diary” is meant to be the thoughts of Jane Sagan, as she looks over her life after the events of The Ghost Brigades and prepares for the life which will be detailed in The Last Colony. I wanted voices closer to hers than my own.

So I asked some friends if they would speak for Jane Sagan: I asked Elizabeth Bear, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ellen Kushner, Karen Meisner, Cherie Priest and Helen Smith. Happily for me (and for you) they said yes. Each of them recorded a chapter (or more, in the case of Mary Robinette Kowal), and took the words I wrote for Jane and gave them extra dimensions — made more of them than I would be able to make of them myself. If you’ve wondered what Jane Sagan sounds like, she sounds like this. I was delighted to hear her voice coming through these readings, and deeply humbled by the efforts these women provided in letting Jane speak with them and through them. Without prejudicing your own hearing, let me say that I found myself getting emotional listening to these words given voice. Listen to it; you’ll figure out where.

And now it gives me a great deal of pleasure to present you “The Sagan Diary,” spoken aloud. The story is broken up into a preface and eight chapters; each chapter is available in low-bandwidth (32kbps mp3) and high-bandwidth (variable rate but usually >300kpbs mp3) versions. The low bandwidth versions are standardized in volume; the high bandwidth versions vary (I figure you know how to use a volume knob). The individual chapters themselves were recorded on everything from MacBooks with built-in microphones to professional sound equipment, so there’s some variance there was well; I went in smoothed things out somewhat with my audio equipment, but not too much, because I wanted each of the individual voices to come through.

Here is a table of contents for the audio version, with links to the files.

Preface to “The Sagan Diary” — This chapter is actually not from the point of view of Jane Sagan; it’s from the POV of a military data analyst who has some very pointed grievances concerning the data she has to work with. This chapter will especially be useful for those of you who have not quite gotten through The Ghost Brigades. This chapter is read by Mary Robinette Kowal. (Low | High)

Chapter One: Words — “These words are my life. Representation of time and counterfeit of emotion, record of loss and celebration of gain.” The story now shifts to Jane, where it will remain. Read by Mary Robinette Kowal (Low | High)

Chapter Two: Killing — “I am not Death. I am killing; I am the verb, I am the action, I am the performance. I am the movement that cuts the spine; I am the mass which pulps the brain. I am the headsnap ejecting consciousness into the air.” Read by Elizabeth Bear (Low | High)

Chapter Three: Speaking — “Let me speak your name… and in doing so affirm you in your tangible skin, with vibration and waves and exhalation” Read by Karen Meisner (Low | High)

Chapter Four: Friendship — “I rose early the day I killed my friend. I knew that when I killed him I would have to be ready… and for that I needed to prepare myself.” Read by Ellen Kushner (Low | High)

Chapter Five: Age — “When you were born all you could do was cry. When I was born I woke to a whisper, giving me a name and telling me to come away from my cradle.” Read by Helen Smith (Low | High)

Chapter Six: Sex — “I am intent on your face, and the movement of your lips, and the memory of how those lips feel when they are on me.” Read by Cherie Priest (Low | High)

Chapter Seven: Fear — “Fear enters the room and sits down in a chair and with a polite smile asks to open negotiations. Fear is small and hard and patient, and duplicitous, because in asking to negotiate it knows I cannot refuse.” Read by Mary Robinette Kowal (Low | High)

Chapter Eight: Endings — “It is time to come to the end of things and to the beginning.” Read by Mary Robinette Kowal (Low | High)

Let me take a moment to thank Ellen, Bear, Karen, Mary, Cherie and Helen for their work on this. This is everything I hoped it would be. I hope you enjoy it too. Feel free to let people know it’s here — I’d like for this to get around.

64 Comments on “The Sagan Diary: The Audio Version”

  1. Awesome. I just finished Ghost Brigades. Now I have something to listen to on my commute!

  2. O.K. Now here’s a dilemma. Do I wait for the book to arrive and hear the “Jane’s voice” I have stored in my head or give this a listen first.

    I’ll certainly end up experiencing both, but now I’ve got to decide which order.


    (Whichever way I go, I can see that I’m going to have to provide my own cookies.)

  3. OK, this rocks – I don’t normally buy limited edition stuff like this, so I was wondering how I could get to read it. But I listen to audiobooks while working out all the time.

    You don’t seem to have a tip jar up – is there something you’d suggest as a donation instead?

  4. Damnit, Scalzi, are you *conspiring* to prevent me from actually working? :-)

    I downloaded and listened to the preface. Cool (and I like MRK’s voice) but if I sent that snarky a memo to my CO, he’d have my guts for garters.

  5. Queenie:

    “I must have this book. Must must have.”

    No plotting necessary — just order it. See? We make it easy.

  6. Thanks, John. This is very cool. I’ve downloaded TSD and I’ll listen to it as soon as I’ve finished TGB. And, of course, I’ll make a donation to Reading is Fundamental.

  7. Thank you for not only writing this but arranging for this reading/performance. I have yet to read one of your books. My best friend recommended this to me. From what I heard as I downloaded the files, it sounds very interesting. Thank you for sharing your talent and your ideas.

  8. Excellent! I’ve got pretty ladies talking, I’ve got pudding, and I have no reason to venture out into the sub-zero weather.

    You rule, John.

  9. Well, Dan, please remember to extend some of that ruleage to the women who contributed as well. They are also full of rule-osity.

  10. I definitely will, John. After listening to the world slowly freeze to a halt all day today, I am certainly looking forward to putting on the headphones and listening to the nice, warm narration.

    So, to all the women who put this telling together, let me say thanks, and I apologize if my earlier comment overlooked your incredible level of rule-osity. You all did an amazing job.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go close my eyes and have my frostbitten ears slowly warmed while I dream a little.

  11. The intro you wrote up for Chapter Two sent chills up my spine. I can’t wait to give these a listen!

  12. A. Thank you, John, for sharing this story in this wonderful format.

    B. You do know, don’t you, that anytime you put the bald-faced Amazon link right there in the post, you’re potentially enabling my worst One-Click/Prime tendencies, don’t you? I mean, I mean . . . you do know that? And that I might just One-Click The Sagan Diary and then just, y’know, out of habit even, say, One-Click The Ghost Brigades, too, because once you get on a roll . . .

    *deep breaths, eyes closed*

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading The Ghost Brigades and The Sagan Diary when Amazon delivers them to me. (In two business days, man! Amazon Prime is awesome! It’s like– . . . nevermind.) And then listening to these audio files.

  13. My son’s gonna be pissed when I download all these onto his mp3 player so I can listen to them without worrying about the content with the kids around.

    I’ll tell him to blame you, John.

    It was a brilliant idea to have all these women read for you.

  14. I have been looking forward to hearing the other readers since Scalzi approached me about this. They are indeed full of rule-osity.

    And Dan, thank you for noticing that we are also pretty.

  15. YEEAAA!!!

    You totally rock, Scalzi, et al, for doing this. Finally something that you’ve talked about writing that I get access to!!!

    Can’t wait to get the kiddos off to bed so I can start reading.

  16. I’ve decided I’m going to wait to get the book, and then sit back and have it read to me. Haven’t done that in 40 years or so.

  17. John, this would 1)get spread around a good bit more 2)without slamming your server, if it were released as a bittorrent. I would do that for you, if you like, with link to this entry &c.

    If you druther not, probably best to say so, as I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking this.

  18. An excellent idea, John.

    If you’re cotton to the idea, I’d like to make this free audio book available on, where we’ve got nearly 100 other titles. I’m in the process of setting up Cory Doctorow’s Eastern Standard Tribe up there right now.

    We can direct any and all donations to RIF, as you’ve suggested above. We’ll need to do some tweaking to the audio files, but that’s not huge issue. And we’ll host the final files, again taking a big drag off your server, if you want to redirect the links to ours. We can handle the load.



  19. John, this is amazing. I finally got to listen to it as I cleaned out my old apartment.

    Your writing has taken a giant leap with this. It’s such an amazing glimpse into the mind of a character. I am really amazed at how vivid it is. Audio rarely holds me like this – in books anyway – so it’s doubly impressive.

    All the readers are amazing. Did you choose them sepcifically for those chapters or just dole them out as they got back to you?

    A couple stand out – Hold up! Hold up! Hold up! Is that the Ellen Kushner, my Sunday morning, Weekend Edition, puzzle solving please-get-back-from-sabbatical already Ellen Kushner? Damn! How did you swing that? Massive contributions to NPR?!

    And it’s flat out cruel to have Cherie Priest reading Chapter Six. Just wrong. You are at heart a devious awful person who only likes to see others suffer. Fortunately, Ms. Priest is not Italian American and cannot make sausage and peppers like Mrs. Chang.

  20. Chang:

    Actually, Ellen Kushner does have a radio show on Public Radio, so it’s indeed possible you were thinking of her and didn’t even know it.

    Also, the way I got her to participate was I asked. Ellen’s awesome.


    Thanks for the offer. is actually contracted for 1.5 terabytes of bandwidth a month so I’m good on that end of things.

  21. I’m listening to chapter two (and have the book on order) and am very impressed. The prosody is musical and lovely — it reminds me of how wonderful Jennifer Ackerman’s prosody is in the book “Notes From the Shore”.

  22. John,

    As a follow-up: is the physical layout on the page of this text like that of a diary, or is the physical layout of the text like poetry which is — of course — what this is?


  23. John,

    When I listen to these women read, I think of Shakespeare. It would be interesting to see the text laid out like’s — say — that in Shakespeare’s plays.

    I await with anticipation on the one hand (Oh! how GOOD they could be), and fear on the other (that some bozo will ruin the stories) — the time when your stories are picked up for movies. Hold out for someone like, say, Kenneth Branaugh…he might not get the SF right, but he’ll most likely get the sense and feeling right.

    — Regards.

  24. You know, I fully expect to have some muscled up actor use the line “I am not Death, I am killing” for a trailer pretty soon now. It’s too good a line to not steal. Then Jane will have to kill him. Karma.

    Now that I think about it, has anyone optioned the OMW universe for other media (TV/Movies/YouTube?)

  25. I have now listened to all but the last two chapters while at work on a Saturday (pout) and I must reiterate the acknowledgement of awesomeness that everyone has already expressed. It’s impossible to determine which is more nifty–the writing or the reading–so gold stars all ’round for everyone involved! Thanks!

  26. Thanks, John – and Chang! It’s an honor to be confused with NPR’s Liane Hansen.

    My radio program, “PRI’s Sound & Spirit with Ellen Kushner,” is also on Sunday mornings (and other times as well). You can listen to it here:

    John, thanks for all the tech help recording this – you’ll be glad to know we’ll never have to go through this again, now that we’ve converted my diningroom into a recording studio here:

  27. Very cool indeed! I wish I could do the same with my walk-in closet, but the bedroom’s occupied by a sick and feverish wife right now.

    Ellen, I’m slow on a good day even when the wind’s right and I’ve had a good breakfast.

    I think I got momentarily excited when I heard on eof the many of my NPR friend’s voices. Truly, one could do worse than confuse you with Leanne. But as someone who’s dug your show for about ten years now, it’s kind of stupid that I made the mistake.

    If only I could have blamed it on the flu…

  28. Wow, finally got around to listening to all of this… it was outstanding. What a talented group of women you assembled to become Jane Sagan. I am now waiting impatiently for the Last Colony to arrive.

  29. John, can you get Sub. Press to release _The Sagan D._ to Webscriptions as they have your two non-fiction books. (I prefer Webscriptions for their no-DRM policy.) I have most of your fiction on my Kindle except for _zoe’s tale_. I have the paper versions of it and _old man’s war_ which a kind bookseller at Denvention steered me to. I’m sorry that I missed your reading but my problem is that I’m slowing going deaf so I may have misssed most of it anyway. I really enjoy your books and will try to download what you are offering here and will probably be able to listen to it using a mp3 player and headphones.
    Keep up the good work!

  30. John,
    Thanks for the tip. I’ll try making it into a .mobi or .prc file when I come back from AAAS this weekend.
    Thanks Again,

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  33. Ouch. Very beautiful. Yes I cried, no need to make a big thing about it.

    Curious as to whether Mary Robinette Kowal had any source of direction, other than her own sense of story. I mean like notes on the page (my dead tree copy is still in transit from Amazon), or else in correspondence / conversations prior to recording.

    I just wondered because that part is just so strong, so effective, I suspect that my own private reading would have raced through it and missed most of that emotion.

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  36. My wife and I discovered your writing because we love Jonathan Coulton’s music, and followed tortuous internet links right to your interviews with him. So now, my family have all read Old Man’s War (and loved it) and we have the sequel on order and Red Shirts ain’t far behind that! And then we find you in downloadable audio… How FREAKING Awesome is That ?!!??! Dude, You ROCK!!!

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