The new podcast LeVar Burton Reads debuted recently on Audible Channels, and it’s something special. The show is LeVar Burton’s first podcast. It’s a chance to hear some great short stories, something of a dying art form. And it’s a revival of Reading Rainbow.
Yes, this podcast delivers exactly what it promises. LeVar Burton reads you a short story of his own choosing, with a little bit of commentary before and after. It’s distributed by Audible Channels and produced by Midroll Media, which means it has some money behind it and can afford nice things like voice processing and background music.
LeVar Burton Reads seems like an odd choice for an actor of this caliber. After all, Burton is famous. He was Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kunte Kinte in Roots, and of course this whole reading thing already had a popular and long-running television show.
The debut episode addresses that up front. It starts with a very short, RadioLab style interview of Burton. The only question is: “What made you want to do a podcast?”
The answer is straightforward and exactly what you’d want to hear.
“People have asked me for years and years and years ‘When are you going to do a Reading Rainbow for adults?”, explains Burton. “So, I wanted to address that.”
The first story shows LeVar’s genuine love of sci-fi. “Kin” by Bruce McAllister is a Hugo award-winning story originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. The magazine dates back to 1977, and was a career-maker for countless sci-fi luminaries. Harry Turtledove, Mike Resnick, Octavia Butler, Ursula LeGuin, and many more had their start in its pages.
What starts out as a straightforward action piece turns into something much more contemplative. A young boy saves up to hire an alien assassin to kill a man. The man is going to kill the boy’s sister, he says, and he needs to strike first.
It takes a few turns from there, and ends up oddly heartwarming. Like many Asimov selections, it’s short, thoughtful, and leaves you hungry. The ending doesn’t answer every question you might have.
LeVar gives a short postscript with his own thoughts on the story and why he selected it. That helps a bit, and reminds you that readers (or listeners) can put back into a story as much as they take. You can fill in the blanks yourself.
The host is a great voice actor, imbuing the boy with a degree of fear and the assassin with a variety of emotions. Burton’s no stranger to voice acting, with appearances in Gargoyles, Family Guy, Adventure Time, and more.
He brings those skills to bear, aided by plenty of post-processing effects. The assassin’s words is smeared with echoes and reverse reverb, but it’s hardly necessary. Burton is engaging enough all on his own, and the vocal effects are just window dressing.
At the time of this writing, there are three episodes of LeVar Burton Reads. As the man says, not every story is sci-fi, but they are all handpicked by him. A podcast is possibly an even better venue for this sort of thing than Reading Rainbow itself, and it’s a great way to get some bite-sized literature into your day.
To listen to LeVar Burton Reads, search for it in the podcast app of your choice, or visit the show’s website.