Review of Travel by Wire by Arthur C. Clarke

August 30, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Science Fiction Audiobook - Travel by Wire by Arthur C. ClarkeTravel By Wire
By Arthur C. Clarke; Read by David Zinn
11 minutes – [UNABRIDGED]
Published: 2005
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hard SF / Teleportation / Humor /

Arthur C. Clarke’s early stories all seem to reflect some shade of his particularly British sense of humor – something which is almost completely absent from his later work. It is as if he was a “playful writer” in his youth and then a “serious writer” later on. This one is particularly playful, and has some good science fiction content too. Also nice is a brief introduction to the story written by Clarke, taken from the The Best Of Arthur C. Clarke 1937-1955. This story, Clarke’s first, was originally published in “Amateur Science Fiction Stories” magazine in December 1937. Reader David Zinn doesn’t sport an English accent but his reading is otherwise
appropriate. Available, for free, on the excellent AssistiveMedia.org website.

REALAUDIO LINK:
http://www.assistivemedia.org/amrams/TravelByWire.ram

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Misery and Pity by C. J. Henderson

August 26, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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Horror Audiobooks - Misery and Pity by C.J. HendersonMisery and Pity
By C. J. Henderson, read by Jeffery West, Bob Barr and C.J. Henderson
1 CD/ 55 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Realms
Published: ??
ISBN: 0973159634
Themes: / Horror / Damnation / Possession / Vampires / Fantasy / Suicide / Charity

On the back cover of this audio book, C. J. Henderson is given the unblushing accolade “The Master of Modern Horror”, but I found the stories in this collection to be charming throwbacks. The stories often have classic arrangements, such as two old friends meeting at a restaurant to swap tales and compare their fates, or dark, Poe-like trips into hells of a character’s own making. They juxtapose the familiar with the impossible, the ominous with the disarmingly reassuring, and make for a tasty light lunch of dark imaginings.

The title story, read by Jeffrey West borrows, I assume, from Chinese myth, but in a way that doesn’t seem the least bit Chinese. Two old friends meet in an exotic Hong Kong Dim Sum where the diners bring their birds with them and let them roost in the rafters while they eat. A simple comment about one’s latest doings and destiny leads to a story of Chinese soul-vampires and a fiery confrontation with a monster that is the last of its kind. West’s narration is modern and seamless, almost invisible for its perfect attention to the story.

Bob Barr, on the other hand, narrates “Hope” with visible and sensational style. Somehow, he brings the narrative force of a tent revival and a fireside ghost story together, occasionally slowing the story to such a languid pace that you feel not only the weight of each syllable, but of their attack and decay as well. It’s very effective for a tale dealing with sin, damnation, and unutterable evil wearing the most insidious disguise.

But that’s where the professional narration ends, and where the quality of the material begins to dip, too. C.J. Henderson’s readings sound nerdy and occasionally belabored. And if he brings any authorial insight to the pieces, it is to point out that they are artificial and clattery. “The Buzzing of Flies” seems especially overwrought, as well as dull and predictable. “That’s the One” makes no real sense, being an illustration of life imitating a random thought about a specific work of art, but it has a loose freedom that seems to float where the previous story falls. Perhaps the finest of the final three is “Sacrifice”, which seems to be a wicked, wicked satire of the bizarre and pointless reactions we have to the injustices of the world.

All in all, Misery and Pity isn’t a bad way to kill almost an hour. The whole package has a likeable simplicity to it, and an unselfconscious lightness that makes it frivolously fun. Groundbreaking? Life-changing? Nah, but it is enjoyable.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

Review of The Fires of Heaven: The Wheel of Time Book 5 by Robert Jordan

August 24, 2005 by · 1 Comment
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Fantasy Audiobooks - The Fires of Heaven by Robert JordanThe Fires of Heaven: Book Five of The Wheel of Time
By Robert Jordan; Narrated by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer
29 CD’s – 38 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Renaissance
Published: 2004
ISBN: 1593976062
Themes: / Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Magic / Good and Evil / Demons / Dragons /

The fifth book in Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, The Fires of Heaven is one of the author’s better novels. As in all of his books in this series, this book is enjoyable because there is so much going on with the plot and numerous sub-plots. Jordan does a good job of keeping all of the smaller story lines relevant to the overarching theme of the final battle between good and evil that will culminate for Rand al’Thor and his companions in Tarman Gaidon. Jordan does a nice job of blending interesting concepts such as circular time with a compelling story line that includes humor, drama, suspense, romance and all the rest. What sets this book apart from the others in the series is the clever depiction of an epic battle between the Shaido clan of the Aiel and the mixture of warriors following Al’Thor. Once again, there are a lot of things going on among the principle characters in this battle, and Jordan manages to keep it all engaging and very exciting.

A criticism that I have of this book also applies to the other books in the series. The tension between the men and women in the stories is taken too far and beaten to death. It has become annoying to the listener at the point of this book, and begins to be more so in the subsequent novels. In some cases, as with Nynaeve Al’Maera, the character has become completely un-likeable. The characters would be more believable if they could evolve past this stuff or if Jordan could just not mention it so much.

Kate Reading and Michael Cramer work together to narrate the female and male perspectives. Since the books are so large and such big sections of it are told from one gender’s point of view at a time, it works well to keep the listener’s interest. There are also fewer of the awkward-sounding attempts at trying to depict a character of the opposite sex by altering the pitch of the voice.

Ms. Reading is always enjoyable to listen to. She is especially talented at enunciating clearly, yet sounds completely natural. Her classic voice is a pleasant match for the characters she portrays and she manages to subtly distinguish the social class and personality of her characters.

Overall, this is an enjoyable story and one of the best out of the ten volumes, as it moves along at a compelling pace with interesting things happening with the various characters. You won’t find particularly deep or moving scenes in this book, nor is Jordan a particularly picturesque writer, but he is a good story-teller. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes an adventurous story, and who is looking for something epic to listen to.

Review of The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

August 22, 2005 by · 1 Comment
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Science Fiction Audiobooks - The Vor Game by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Vor Game
By Lois McMaster Bujold; Read by Grover Gardner
9 CDs – Approx. 10 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2005
ISBN: 9780786178308
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera / Military / Espionage /

I’ve listened to several space operas lately. Sometimes it works out that way when reviewing science fiction audio, no matter how eclectic I try to be in my listening. So, I approached this with a bit of a sigh, expecting more of the same. I should have known better, though, because Lois McMaster Bujold is one heck of a fine storyteller, and Grover Gardner is a fine reader, too. The Vor Game showed me how good space opera can be. It doesn’t take itself seriously, the characters are people you’d like to meet, the situations (and their resolutions) are plausible, and, only because you care enough about the characters, exciting.

The Vor Game is one of a series of books collectively called The Vorkosigan Saga. Technically, this Hugo Award-winning book is the fourth in the series, but each stands alone. It starts with Miles Vorkosigan, the son of the famous Count Vorkosigan and subject of most of the Vorkosigan novels, graduating from the Barrayaran military academy. He’s anticipating an assignment in all sorts of interesting places, but he lands a spot as a weatherman in a frozen northern training base. An infantry training base no less – something for which his short stature (from genetic damage suffered by his mother while pregnant with Miles) is simply not built. And it all goes downhill from there in a story that spans this frozen tundra to the depths of space, and includes ensigns and emperors. The characters are very witty, especially Miles.

Grover Gardner is an excellent reader. He is not a flamboyant dramatic reader, but a precise steady reader with a very pleasant voice. I enjoy his performances, like I did this one.

Blackstone Audio is going to publish more of the Vorkosigan titles – the next in line is The Warrior’s Apprentice. Looking forward to it!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Posing As People: Three Stories, Three Plays by Orson Scott Card

August 19, 2005 by · Leave a Comment
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Science Fiction Audio - Posing as People by Orson Scott CardPosing As People: Three Stories, Three Plays
By Orson Scott Card, Scott Brick, Emily Janice Card, and Aaron Johnson
Performed by 3 FULL CASTS and Various Readers
Limited Edition Hardcover with 4 CDs – 4.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Published: 2005
ISBN: 1596060158
Themes: / Science Fiction / Love / Time Travel / Psychology / Aliens / Artificial Intelligence /

“Clap Hands and Sing” shows us a lonely — but rich and powerful — old man who has only one wish before he dies: To go back in time and take an opportunity for love that he once let slip by. But what will it do to the young girl who used to love him?

“Lifeloop” pretends to be reality TV twenty-four hours a day. In fact, they’re really actors. But when your character is you, without any break, how exactly do you have a “real” life? And how can a fellow actor tell you that he loves you, when that’s what the script also calls for him to say?

“Sepulchre of Songs” is about a heartbreakingly lovely girl who lost her arms and legs many years ago, and now yearns to be free, not just of the rest home where she lives, but of her body. So is the alien being who wants to trade places with her real or the product of her own imagination? And can her therapist’s growing love for her keep her from fleeing — either into space or the dark recesses of her own mind?

Three Orson Scott Card short science fiction stories and three one-act adaptations of the same comprise the bulk of this limited edition (only 750 were published) hardcover book and audio CD set. Posing As People: Three Stories, Three Plays was released in the wake of the 2004 premiere of the stage play of the same name. Everything found on the four Compact Discs can be found in the paper book – minus the actual aural performances. The paper book also includes a foreword by Card, an introduction to the play “Clap Hands And Sing” by author Scott Brick, an afterword to play “Life Loop” by author Aaron Johnston, an afterword to the play “A Sephulcre of Songs” by author Emily Janice Card, and three afterwords, one for each of the original short stories, by Orson Scott Card.

The CDs of course are the heart of our real interest here at SFFAUDIO. On the CDs, first come the three plays, all multi-actor performances with sound effects – basically exactly what you would have experienced were you sitting in the theater in Los Angeles with your eyes closed. Following the three plays are the original three short stories as read by one individual reader each.

I think the plays all fail to deliver as audio drama. This is not due to any adaptational problems of the play’s adaptors, rather I think it was a mistake not to make the plays video DVDs. Each play was specifically adapted for the stage – and not constructed to work on their own as audio dramas. For instance – there is very little sense of place in the audio of the plays – but there is a great sense of place in the audiobooks that the plays are based on. By simply recording the audio they’ve cut off that sense of space. Thus I think they don’t work on their own as audio dramas. On the other hand, if you saw the original plays in Los Angeles these might adequately allow you to revisit the performances.

All three adaptations, or what I experienced of them, are very well performed and the sound effects are used to good effect but the true power of the stories doesn’t materialize without the visual component. Contrarywise, the readings of the original short stories all work perfectly. The original text is very evocative visually, and provide a emotional richness lacking in the soundtrack to the three plays. That said, some work better than others. “Lifeloop” is the best of the three plays as it the most talky of the dramatizations. Of the unabridge short story readings “A Sephulcre Of Songs” works best, narrator Robert Forster reads with a poignant sadness that is truly heart-rending. The only drawback is there is a slight hiss in this particular recording.

The Plays:
“Clap Hands And Sing”
By Scott Brick, based on the Short story by Orson Scott Card; Directed by Orson Scott Card
Lawyer 1 — Eric Artell
Lawyer 2 — Sara Ellis
Sportscaster — Lara Schwartzberg
Lucy Host — Sara Ellis
Ronco Pitchperson — Victoria Von Roth
News Anchor — Kelly Lohman
Charlie — Stefan Rudnicki
Jock — Scott Brick
Rachel Carpenter — Emily Janice Card
Mrs. Carpenter — Victoria Von Roth

“Lifeloop”
By Aaron Johnston, based on the Short story by Orson Scott Card; Directed by Orson Scott Card
Aaron Handully — Lara Schwartzberg
Felice — Kelly Lohman
Hamilton — Eric Artell
Truiff — Victoria Von Roth
Technician — Scott Brick

“A Sepulchre Of Songs”
By Emily Janice Card, based on the Short story by Orson Scott Card; Directed by Orson Scott Card
Therapist — Kirby Heyborne
April — Kelly Lohman
Elaine — Emily Janice Card
Doug — Eric Artell
Wallace — Stefan Rudnicki
Becky — Lara Schwartzberg

The Stories:
“Clap Hands And Sing”
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Scott Brick

“Lifeloop”
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Emily Janice Card

“A Sepulchre Of Songs”
By Orson Scott Card; Read by Robert Forster

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Arbiter Chronicles: Series 1

August 17, 2005 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

Audio Theater - The Arbiter ChroniclesThe Arbiter Chronicles: Series 1: Episode 1: Mutiny Springs Eternal
Written and Directed by Steven H. Wilson; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – 50 Minutes [Audio Drama]
Publisher: Prometheus Radio Theatre
Published: 2003
Themes: / Science Fiction / Space Opera /

Centuries from now, humankind has colonized hundreds of worlds. Terra, humanity’s home, is a slum in the war zone, its people shunned by the genetically engineered elite whose ancestors were driven from its surface to settle the stars. Against the invasion of the evil Qraitian Empire. , the colonies aligned themselves in a loose, squabbling confederacy of worlds. The strongest weapon in their arsenal is a space navy which has held back the Qraitian threat for decades. Jan Atal, celebrated veteran of the last Qraitian War, found himself a teacher in a time of peace. Now he has assembled his most promising students aboard the patrol ship Arbiter. There he makes them ready, for in his heart he knows that this peace can not last.
— Introduction to The Arbiter Chronicles by Steven H. Wilson

This is the first installment of a space opera audio drama series called The Arbiter Chronicles. As of this writing, the eight episodes of Series 1 have been produced, as have the first five episodes of Series 2. All them are available at Prometheus Radio Theatre.

In the booklet that came with the CD, Steven H. Wilson, the writer/director of the program, says that The Arbiter Chronicles is a space opera that had been kicking around in his head for quite a while, and then an opportunity at a convention in Baltimore allowed him some time to put together a live performance of this drama on the main stage. The crowd liked it, so he started to produce them for sale on CD.

The drama itself is definitely entertaining and is in the tradition of Star Trek. The Arbiter is a military vessel modeled after the modern day Navy. The crew is mostly human, but includes some alien crew members like Midshipman Cernaq, who is from the planet of Phaeton. The story begins when the crew of the Arbiter discovers an old starship. The ship still works, and its crew is still on the planet below.

My only complaint is that there are too many info dump moments – moments when one character explains something to another character. The content of these conversations were very intriguing, and some of them could have made good stories in and of themselves.

The production quality is very good, with music and sound effects throughout. It’s interesting, entertaining audio theater.

Cast
Captain Jan Atal – David Keefer
Midshipman Terry Metcalfe – Steven H. Wilson
Midshipman Kevin Carson – Scott D. Farquhar
Midshipman Cernaq – Dan “Renfield” Corcoran
Midshipman Kayan’na Atal – Beatrice Kondo
Bos’n Aer’la – June Swords
Dr. Celia Faulkner – Cindy Shockey
L’lanck / Admiral Fournier / Announcer – Paul Balzc
Trace Stockard – Renee Wilson
Dr. Andrews – Andrew Bergstrom
Dawson – John Weber
Guards – Cindy Woods, John Weber

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

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