Review of Dead Man’s Hand edited by John Joseph Adams

July 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Dead Man's HandDead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird WestEdited by John Joseph Adams, by various (see table of contents below)
Read by Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 13 May 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 15 hours, 59 minutes

Themes: / weird / western / short stories / dirigibles / dinosaurs / demons / clockworks /

Publisher summary:

The weird, wild west – an American frontier populated by gunslingers, rattlesnakes, outlaws, zombies, aliens, time travelers, and steampunk! Twenty-three of science fiction and fantasy’s hottest and most popular authors create all-new tales, written exclusively for this anthology. Aliens and monsters, magic and science are introduced to the old west, with explosive results.

Table of contents:

Introduction by John Joseph Adams
The Red-Headed Dead by Joe R Lansdale
The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space by Ben H Winters
Hellfire on the High Frontier by David Farland
The Hell-Bound Stagecoach by Mike Resnick
Stingers and Strangers by Seanan McGuire
Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger by CharlesYu
Holy Jingle by Alan Dean Foster
The Man With No Heart by Beth Revis
Wrecking Party by Alastair Reynolds
Hell from the East by Hugh Howey
Second Hand by Rajan Khanna
Alvin and the Apple Tree by Orson Scott Card
Madam Damnable’s Sewing Circle by Elizabeth Bear
Strong Medicine by Tad Williams
Red Dreams by Jonathan Maberry
Bamboozled by Kelley Armstrong
Sundown by Tobias S Buckell
La Madre Del Oro by Jeffrey Ford
What I Assume You Shall Assume by Ken Liu
The Devil’s Jack by Laura Anne Gilman
The Golden Age by Walter Jon Williams
Neversleeps by Fred Van Lente
Dead Man’s Hand by Christie Yant

I enjoyed this collection of odd tales from the weird west. It may not have knocked my boots off, but I felt them tugged from time to time. And really, what more can we ask from an anthology.

Stuffed with clockworks, vampires, dinosaurs, and aliens, John Joseph Adams (editor) has wrangled some fun stories. Each author strikes a unique set of harmonics on the scale of voice and tone, and yet the individuality of fellow contributors isn’t lost, but rather merged into a larger, primarily singular melody suiting this particular subgenre

My top five IOP (In Order of Printing):
* “The Hell-Bound Stagecoach” by Mike Resnick
* “Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger” by Charles Yu
* “Second Hand” by Rajan Khanna
* “Red Dreams” by Jonathan Maberry
* “Dead Man’s Hand” by Christie Yant
* And honorable mention goes to the introduction. John Joseph Adams sets the table for the reader, establishing a foothold on the subgenre through brief and accessible historical context.

The audiobook consists of dueling narrators. Phil Gigante and Natalie Ross take turns, with Gigante reading the majority. And while Ross has a rich and pleasing voice, she lathers on too much thick Southern-sweet for the ear to wholly appreciate.

All in all, a fun anthology.
I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys tales set in the Ole West with a twist of odd fringed with funny.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

Review of Ender’s Game Als Ungekürztes Hörspiel (the GERMAN language audio drama)

July 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Audio Drama, Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - GERMAN audio dramaEnder’s Game Als Ungekürztes Hörspiel
By Orson Scott Card; Performed by a full cast
Audible Download – Approx. 8 hours [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Audible.de
Published: October 24, 2013

Much has been said about Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game from 1985 and there is still much to discuss. Of course there is much more than the ‘Oh, the titular game was real!’ ending. This ending may appear to be a very cheap solution to the reader today. But despite this, the novel’s implications are still delivering up-to-date topics for us to discuss. When the game was manipulated by the military and the kids had been hoodwinked into committing genocide against the Buggers – we can ask ‘what does that say about grown-ups manipulating kids in general?’ Orson Scott Card’s novel remains a classic SF because it constructs ideas within us.

To me this novel is a very particular story and after a long hiatus in the SF field I wanted to go back to the roots of my usual reading habits which used to be SF, Fantasy and Horror. I listened to the episodes of The SFFaudio Podcast and the name Orson Scott Card was sprinkled in here and there. In Cologne I went into an English bookstore named “Fine Tea and Books,” run by a very friendly guy named Christopher Potter – he also happens to be a Conan fan expert in recommending SF. He told me to read Orson Scott Card’s novel “Ender’s game” and so I did and I was immediately immersed into it.

Then I heard about a German audio drama, exclusively published by Audible. And then too I heard of an English language version. Orson Scott Card himself wrote the script for the show and it was translated into German by Andrea Wilhelm. A very experienced director of the audio drama, Balthasar von Weymarn (also well regarded as producer of the audiodrama company “Interplanar”). In addition von Weymarn is head of the Mytho­lo­gi­cal Round­Ta­ble® Char­ter Ber­lin der Joseph Camp­bell® Foun­da­tion, and a screenwriter who no doubt knows his stuff.

Together with audio technican Jochen Simmendinger, von Weymarn had to coordinate 101 voice actors, including 40 child and teen voice actors at a recording studio in Berlin. The deadline was very tight because the German audio drama had to be released simultaneously with the start of the movie adaptatoion. The pressure was high but Baltashar von Weymarn loves challenges as he said “A challenge makes it fun.”

Von Weynarm is into the story and knows the novel well. A good director does not only consult the script, but researches much about the author and the cicrumstances around which the novel was written. Von Weynarm knows it all, he wonders why kids are trained that way, what kind of government rules Earth, and he goes deep into the story itself. And this hard thinking shows up in the production. The director’s interpretation of the audiodrama script, as well as of the novel, drives his imagination, evokes mind pictures that von Weynarm is able to explain to his actors. Perhaps every director has to work that way. However, Balthasar von Weynarm had to do it with 40 young and 61 adult actors, each one had to fulfil her or his part and the director had to explain how it all had to be done. This is an amazing achievement.

Due to the fact that the script was written by Orson Scott Card himself the director’s interpretation has it’s limits. But von Weynarm’s production maximizes the script’s power. There is no narrator. All “off-screen” information is given to us via comments by spectators of certain scenes. These spectators observe actions that are happening somewhere else and then anallyze these action right away. This is the issue director and his ensemble can show action. All that can be explained through the voice is well done. Music is also used, but shows up more between the scenes. And so as to fuel the listener’s imagination there are also addedsound effects, created by sound designer Tommi Schneefuss. Schneefuss does a terrific job because the sound effects are not intrusive nor too disturbing. They fit into the setting.

A special issue must have been the casting of the kid actors especially because there were strict specifications by the author. The central character Ender was played by 12-year-old Arne Kapfer. And because his mother was cast for this audio drama he was asked to join the cast. This is a tricky part in all audio drama productions, von Weynarm reports, because boys at that age can suddenly have their voice change. Arne Kapfer though is a pro himself, and brings in five years worth of experience as TV commercial actor. And at home his parents have their own recording studio. It was great to hear the development of Ender was transported through Arne Kapfer’s voice. His slight intonations toward sarcasm, in particular scenes in the Battle School, were very well performed. Kapfer brought in a lot of talent – though voice acting is only a hobby as he has career aspirations toward geology.

The producer of the audio drama is the Lauscherlounge company that works together with most of the best voice artists in Germany – many of whom t apper in “Ender’s Game.” Take for example one of my all-time-favourite voice actors Udo Schenk, who played Colonel Graff. Schenk is the voiceover artist for Garry Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, David Morrissey, Ray Liotta and many more. Timmo Niesner for Chamrajnagar (who dubs Elijah Wood), and Erich Rauker as Mazer Rackham (artist for Will Patton). Their talents form a neat audio drama that is both enjoyable and the very essence of the novel. Does this audiodrama replace the book? No, but it enlarges the listener’s understanding of the novel and it’s a whole lot of fun to hear. The seven hours pass almost too quickly.

Until recently the book itself was long out of print in Germany but because of the movie it was re-published in the general SF section of the Heyne Verlag and not marked out as a YA book.

Posted by Mirko

Review of Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War

July 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

buckle2Romulus Buckle & the Engines of War (The Chronicles of the Pneumatic #2)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 19 November 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours, 31 minutes

Themes: / snow / steampunk / zeppelin / airship / aliens /

Publisher summary:

The frozen wasteland of Snow World – known as Southern California before an alien invasion decimated civilization – is home to warring steampunk clans. Crankshafts, Imperials, Tinskins, Brineboilers, and many more all battle one another for precious supplies, against ravenous mutant beasts for basic survival, and with the mysterious Founders for their very freedom. Through this ruined world soars the Pneumatic Zeppelin, captained by the daring Romulus Buckle. In the wake of a nearly suicidal assault on the Founders’ prison city to rescue key military leaders, both the steam-powered airship and its crew are bruised and battered. Yet there’s little time for rest or repairs: Founders raids threaten to shatter the fragile alliance Buckle has risked everything to forge among the clans. Even as he musters what seems a futile defense in the face of inevitable war, Buckle learns that the most mysterious clan of all is holding his long-lost sister in a secret base – and that she holds the ultimate key to victory over the Founders. But rescuing her means abandoning his allies and praying they survive long enough for there to be an alliance to return to.

So if you are reading this, it means you’ve suffered through the first book, Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, and thought, “Well, here’s a series with no where to go but up.” Turns out you were right. After an unexpected opening on a snowy mountain with an obligatory action scene, Preston gets back to the business of the war brewing against the Founders Clan. And while it’s still not a great book, it is much more confident than the last and delves deeper into Buckle’s world.

Like the first book, the story relies a lot on excess for its appeal. Sure, the Crankshaft Clan is arranging an alliance with the other clans to go to war against the Founders who are trying to take everyone over. But now there is also a love triangle, a long-lost sister, and an alien having visions while in a coma. We are also shown some the ordinary goings on of clan life which is reminiscent of frontier life the West. It is unclear how society managed to revert back a couple centuries when they have little to no knowledge of twenty-first century life, but it is nice to feel like the events of the first novel have some sort of background. Once again, the characters were stereotypical and underdeveloped. The women all seem to be in love with Buckle for no real reason while he is completely oblivious. Preston still tells us about about the characters but this book also shows us a little to backup his claims. Still, he would have been better served by shortening the middle to keep the plot moving. The last chapter was again the most interesting part but it shows that Preston will continue to include whatever fantastical elements he can think of to keep his audience interested regardless of how muddled it makes his story.

Although better than the first novel, this book still doesn’t come up to scratch. Luke Daniels continues his admirable narration but it is not enough to make it worthwhile.

Posted by Rose D.

 

Review of Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders

July 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Romulus Buckle and the City of the FoundersRomulus Buckle & the City of the Founders (Chronicles of the Pneumatic #1)
By Richard Ellis Preston; Narrated by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 2 July 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours, 38 minutes

Themes: / post-apocalypse / snow / zeppelin / steampunk / airship /

Publisher summary:

In a postapocalyptic world of endless snow, eighteen-year-old Captain Romulus Buckle and the stalwart crew of the Pneumatic Zeppelin must embark on a perilous mission to rescue their kidnapped leader, Balthazar Crankshaft, from the impenetrable City of the Founders. Steaming over a territory once known as Southern California—before it was devastated in the alien war—Buckle navigates his massive airship through skies infested with enemy war zeppelins and ravenous alien beasties in this swashbuckling and high-octane steampunk adventure. Life is desperate in the Snow World, and death is quick. Buckle and his ship’s company must brave poisoned wastelands of Noxious Mustard and do battle with forgewalkers, steampipers, and armored locomotives as they plunge from the skies into the underground prison warrens of the fortress city.Captain Romulus Buckle must lead the Pneumatic Zeppelin and its crew of ne’er-do-wells on a desperate mission where he must risk everything to save Balthazar and attempt to prevent a catastrophic war that could wipe out all that is left of civilization and the entire human race.

Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders is a wonderful example of why books should never be judged by their covers. Because while the cover looks polished and interesting with a mysterious but kick ass hero, the story is actually pretty boring. It reminded me of the movie The Expendables. It throws in everything that typically makes an exciting steam punk adventure, but doesn’t use any of the elements to their advantages which just leaves a lot of forgettable explosions.

From the start I felt lost, like maybe I had actually started listening on the second disk because the story starts in the middle of things. Not in the middle of a fight or a heist or a battle. In the middle of the plot. Captain Buckle and crew are flying to the City of the Founders (formally Los Angeles) to break his father out of prison where he is being kept by the nefarious and secretive Founders clan. After all, why have boring Act I world establishment and character building, when you can just start at the beginning of Act II action and fill your readers in on things only as needed? As a result, I never really understood the day to day of this post-war future. In fact, the only things we are told is that civilization has devolved into family clans, all of whom specialize in a trade but none of whom really get along. At some point aliens invaded earth and mingled with humans long enough to leave half-alien children behind, but they are gone now. And humans may or may not be limited to Southern California. The elusive Founders Clan, who has been kidnapping people from other clans, seems important and everyone seems wary of them but I was never really clear on their role in society. It is defiantly not a world in which you can lose yourself.

But I can forgive mediocre world building for some great swashbuckling characters. After all, our hero is named Romulus Buckle and captains a zeppelin. But don’t have your heart set on Errol Flynn, because Buckle, like the rest of the cast are all straight from a mold. Buckle is dashing, brave and heroic because we are told he is, not because we are shown it. His half-alien stepsister is aloof because she’s an alien. There are goofy, well-meaning sidekicks, wise, old mentors, and mustache twirling villains, but none of this paper doll cast has the panache to hold my attention much less carry a story that is ninety percent action scenes. I’m not sure Preston would have bothered with the dialogue necessary to string the action together if it wasn’t the only way to publish a book. It was not until the last chapter that sets things in motion for the sequel that things became more interesting.

Overall, this is a pretty mediocre book that will a appeal more to teenage boys and diehard steam punk fans. Luke Daniels, the narrator, has a nice, manly voice that does the tone of the book justice but I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening when listening to lengthy action scenes. This is Preston’s debut novel and it feels like it, so be prepared for some clumsy storytelling.

Posted by Rose D.

 

Review of Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs

July 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

dragonbloodDragon Blood (Hurog Duology #2)
By Patricia Briggs; Performed by Joe Manganiello
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours
Themes: / fantasy / dragons / Hurog /

Wardwick of Hurog wishes to live in peace. Destiny has other plans. He is about to be arrested and imprisoned in the Asylum for Nobel Embarrassments and Inconveniences. Worse still, Ward has learned that the same man bent on his imprisonment, Jakoven Tallven, High King of the Five Kingdoms, is seeking Hurog blood to activate the supernatural equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction.Once again Ward must play the fool to survive. Yet, that will not suffice. Ward’s closest companions all must risk their lives and fortunes to keep Jakoven and his malevolent mage Jade Eyes from destroying their world.

After finishing Dragon Bones I was left with some lingering questions and looking forward to this book. For some reason this story wasn’t as much fun. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why.  My best guess is the pacing. For such a short book, it felt like the plot meandered too much on unimportant details. The beginning was strong. It pulled me right back in again, and I thought everything was good to go. But then it got slow in middle, and felt sort of rushed at the end. I was sort of underwhelmed by the final confrontation especially.

I guess since I wasn’t having as much fun with the story this go around and it made the quality of the writing more noticeable. I’m not one to spend much time commenting on the writing too much. I tend to leave that for English teachers/literary types. I care a lot more about story and character development than I do about how elegant the prose is. If you’re entertaining me, I’m not going to notice bad sentence structure/dialogue.

If I had to sum this book up with one sentence it would be “Hurog means Dragon.” Why you ask? Well because it’s said at least once per chapter. Often more than once. Or at least that’s how it felt. Eventually I groaned every time another character said it.  I wonder if the writing was just as bad in the first book and I didn’t notice. “Hurog means dragon” was said a few times in that book as well, but it didn’t seem nearly so frequent. I didn’t really find the dialogue or prose that bad.

Glancing over other reviews it seems like I may be in the minority. It’s quite possible that if you liked the first book, you may enjoy this as well, but I mostly found it to a disappointing sequel.

As far as the audio goes, Joe Manganiello once again does a fine job without really adding or subtracting from the story.

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Steel World by B. V. Larson

July 2, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Steel World steelworldSteel World (#1 in Undying Mercenaries)
By B. V. Larson; Performed by Mark Boyett
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 3 December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 10 hours

Themes: / dinosaurs / regeneration / military sf / alien bean counters / science fiction /

Publisher summary:

In the twentieth century Earth sent probes, transmissions and welcoming messages to the stars. Unfortunately, someone noticed.The Galactics arrived with their battle fleet in 2052. Rather than being exterminated under a barrage of hell-burners, Earth joined their vast Empire. Swearing allegiance to our distant alien overlords wasn’t the only requirement for survival. We also had to have something of value to trade, something that neighboring planets would pay their hard-earned credits to buy. As most of the local worlds were too civilized to have a proper army, the only valuable service Earth could provide came in the form of soldiers…someone had to do their dirty work for them, their fighting and dying.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a soft and accessible military SF walk-through. If tropes don’t pose a nuisance, this might just graze your fancy.

B. V. Larson’s Steel World is passable military SF, but it’s not a genre standout. If you’re looking to scratch that itch, this will do the trick, but it may not satisfy. All the ingredients are here. We have humans from Earth fighting on a distant planet inhabited by aliens, futuristic weapons, and the technology to make death nearly nonexistent. All the trope-trappings are here of course too, a young recruit, training, deployment, battles, technology, spaceships, etc. But what we don’t have? Genre originality. But it should be said that one doesn’t need break the mold of military SF to have good military SF. In Larson’s case though, it may have helped to step outside the lines in order to make a memorable impression.

For the most part I enjoyed the ride, but I was ready for it to end. The writing affected a forced feel. I was disappointed with the glossed over battle scenes, stereotypical gruff commander, manor in which the recruits fraternized, and the abrupt ending reinforcing the soldier’s inability to “come home” again all felt too prepackaged to ring that bell of authenticity. I struggled with the at times awkward anachronisms. Similes sporting pigs at county fairs, and basic phrases referencing the Internet, the act of brown-nosing, shopping cart wheels, horseshit, and people being pricks kept pulling me out of the future and plunking me back in the contemporary.

Mark Boyett narrates the audiobook, and does a nice job. Boyett has a clean yet slightly senior sounding voice that is incongruous with the main character’s youthful inexperience. While this is feasible to overlook, it never fully leaves the listener’s consciousness. Boyett sounds more like an old man on a porch than a jacked up soldier full of bloodlust and vitality who never stops checking out the backsides of female officers.

Posted by Casey Hampton.

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