Awesome Dog Justin Dean
Road Trip Into the Ocean

By Justin Dean, author of Awesome Dog 5000

My sister’s Game Boy had run out of batteries.

The situation was dire. A double-A supply run was out of the question: the van only pulled over for two reasons, coffee and gas. It would be at least another hour before Dad would need a refill on either. No, Holly and I were stuck in the back seat holding a state-of-the-art white plastic brick with a black screen. Trading high scores had tragically killed our friend Tetris in a matter of hours. The family road trip wasn’t even at the halfway point, and I had already gone through all five stages of grief. The Game Boy was gone, and I had accepted boredom. Luckily, there was a fail-safe. I had brought my Walkman—or rather my affordably priced, generic, store-brand portable cassette player—and along with it, my complete music library: Vanilla Ice, MC Skat Kat, and a worn-out tape of that week’s top ten, recorded off the radio.

I think this is a good time to mention I’m eleven in this story.

I also had with me an audiobook, and by that I mean I was in possession of an actual book of audio. The plastic case opened to reveal a pair of numbered cassettes, labeled Sphere by Michael Crichton. A few days before the trip, I had tagged along with my mother to the library. Mom didn’t play Game Boy and wanted a book to bring along for the drive. It was a smart move on her part. Books rarely run out of batteries. Unfortunately, any attempt at me trying to read in the van always resulted in a bad case of motion sickness. Instead of Dramamine, Mom prescribed an audiobook. It would be my first.

As a new experience, choosing a title from the shelf would require a very thorough three-step vetting process: Is the font on the spine cool? If so, is the cover art cool? If so, is the summary on the back cool? By following this scientific method of coolness, Sphere was written in Helvetica-ish green, the cover showed a circle in water, and the summary seemed like pretty standard sci-fi fare. It was a quick and easy pass until five words obliterated the competition: “from the creator of Westworld.” Now at this point in my life, the list of my favorite robot movies went as follows:

  1. Terminator 2
  2. The Terminator
  3. RoboCop
  4. Westworld
  5. Short Circuit

So if this Michael Crichton guy was the same dude who made the sweet futuristic western about a haywire robo-cowboy amusement park, it only made sense in my fifth-grade brain that, of course, I’d love a contained adult psychological thriller about imaginary jellyfish!

I put on my affordably priced, generic, store-brand headphones and hit Play. It only took a few chapters, and I was completely hooked. For the first time I could enjoy a story on the go, and Sphere was taking me places. It had—spoiler alert from 1991—everything awesome: time travel, starships, A.I. run amok. I was transported from that boring highway in Oklahoma to a high-tech undersea habitat in the Pacific Ocean. I followed the scientists as they discussed the mysterious sphere and investigated its origins and potential sinister intent. A million questions cycled through my mind: What did it want? How did it get there? Can you please turn down the radio a little?

Even at max volume it was difficult to hear the narrator over the guitar licks of Boston’s “More than a Feeling.” My headphones’ little spongy ear-thingies were poor insulation against Dad’s classic rock station. He’d occasionally be nice enough to inch the dial back, only to mindlessly roll it forward again when he dug another tune. I was on an exciting underwater adventure scored intermittently by Lynyrd Skynyrd. There’s nothing quite like an intense chapter ending on a suspenseful cliffhanger, and just as it holds on that beat of perfect silence…“Free Bird” rocks out.

For the entire drive, every music legend from the Eagles to the Stones to the local car-dealership jingle contributed to my own personal Sphere soundtrack. It was one of my most frustrating, irritating, and, looking back now, formative experiences growing up. I burned through the two A and B sides of Sphere back to back, nonstop on that trip. I never stopped listening. It didn’t matter that Dad’s old timey music was annoying. I had to know what happened next in the story. My first audiobook was everything I had hoped. It showed me how a good story can grab the imagination and never let go. A good story can entice and intrigue. It pulls you through every word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter from departure to arrival. The best stories take you on a journey. An audiobook is one that goes along for the ride. When it was time for our next family road trip, Holly asked Mom for more batteries.

I asked for better headphones.

Listen to a clip and learn more about Justin Dean’s Awesome Dog 5000

Author: Justin Dean
Read By: Robbie Daymond

Marty, Ralph, and Skyler might make the ultimate secret combo when battling alien-slime ninjas in their favorite video game, but in real life they’re just regular kids. That is, until the three best friends discover Awesome Dog 5000, a robotic dog with very real power-ups. Life for Marty, Ralph, and Skyler just got a major turbo-boost!

“An awesome ride! Go, dog, go!”—Chris Grabenstein, #1 New York Times bestselling author