I thought this would be an easy post to write, and had the entire thing outlined before I even began listening to Juliani's reading, and it can be summarized thusly: "While I love Zelazny as an author, and I'm extremely comfortable with his reading voice, he's not a professional narrator, and I must reluctantly concede that Juliani does a better job."
I'm so happy not to have to write that.
Here's the thing. I was expecting that outcome, because, while Zelazny does a fine job on the old Sunset Productions audiobooks, Bruce Watson takes over in HoO because the master tape of Zelazny's reading was so damaged, and his performance is head and shoulders above Zelazny's."
I was expecting a similar dynamic to be at play here, just more pronounced. Audible's narrators are consistently great, and their production qualities are top notch.
However, I disliked it almost immediately. I've listened to Zelazny's readings A LOT. I'm accustomed to them. I take his readings as the authorial word of god as how the works were intended to be read. He didn't do different voices for each character, but he gave them all a different meter, and, of course, Random is different enough from Corwin that one doesn't really need a separate voice.
Juliani presents his own interpretation of the text. Different elements are stressed, reactions are exaggerated. And, of course, this is what a good narrator should do, take the dry text of the work, and imbue it with its own life. He has to make those decisions. But I felt that Zelazny's reading was the definitive reading, as he has the best understanding of what the text intended, and Juliani's reading should have been informed by that. Sometimes it spirals off in completely different directions.
From a technical standpoint, there is no comparison. If I had listened to Juliani first, we wouldn't be having this conversation. His performance is more emotive, more nuanced and better produced. However, Zelazny's is more loyal to the source material, and that counts for more here. I just enjoyed it more.
The other item of interest is how the orderly reacts when Corwin kicks him in the crotch.
It was a very foul blow, about four inches below the belt buckle, I'd say, and it left him on his knees.
"____ ____!" he said, after a time.
In the book, we get the blank spaces, and in Zelazny's reading of the audiobook, we get "Damn you!" In Juliani's, we get an unintelligible garble.
I'd probably recommend Juliani's reading to a friend who had never heard either, primarily because they're the only game in town, but not to someone familiar with Zelazny's reading.