In the Embers
A Great Northern Audio Theatre Production
Written, Directed, and Produced by Brian Price and Jerry Stearns
[AUDIO DRAMA] – 1 Hour, 19 Minutes
Themes: / Audio Drama / time / archaeology / jazz / quantum physics /
A song, a pressed flower, and the sound of two girl’s voices recovered from a burned wooden beam by using a laser to read its charred surface like the grooves of an old 78rpm record. These are the clues that archaeologist, Digger Morgan, discovers while working on a routine Maryland plantation dig. Who were the girls? When was the fire? The answers all lead to 1920s jazz pioneer, Kit Jeffers, whose voice mysteriously appears on Digger’s computer, and whose existence remains haunted by a singular tragic event.
The first sounds offered by this wonderful work of audio drama are the broken haunting voices of two people trying to escape a barn fire. I can hear them as I type this. The voices were impressed on charred barn beams until archaeologist Digger Morgan discovered a way to read them with a laser. Hearing those voices was a powerful moment for me, a moment in which I not only felt the emotion of two people trapped in a fire, but also in which I considered the possibility of strong emotion leaving an imprint on our surroundings.
“In the Embers” doesn’t shy away from considering the implications either. In fact, this fine work of science fiction goes even further. How large an imprint could one leave? And could emotion somehow be transmitted through time? What would be the effect?
The story is excellent, the music is excellent, the audio quality is excellent, and so are the actors. Robin Miles as Kit Jeffers was particularly outstanding. From the riveting opening to the emotional closing scene, this is a drama that goes in the permanent collection. I’ll be listening to this again, no question.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
Brad Lansky and the Rogue Era
1 hour 25 minutes – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Themes: / Audio Drama / Science Fiction / artificial intelligence / biological life / augmented humans / artificial life / rogue planets /
I admire the Brad Lansky series for a couple of reasons. First and most obvious is the sound. This production is a rich soundscape that invites a listener to settle in, eyes closed. Again, J.D. Venne (writer) and Dieter Zimmermann (producer) inspire the listener’s imagination by using aural cues instead of description to provide the setting for the story.
Second, the Brad Lansky stories are genuine hard science fiction. Brad Lansky and the Rogue Era opens with a speech given by Dr. Brinn Diaz, an augmented human. She discusses artificial life (a-life) and biological life (b-life). “B-life has been losing the race since the singularity a millennium ago,” she says. She is both “project and project architect”, having changed her body in various ways, including raising the number of brains on board to three.
Brad Lansky and Dr. Diaz play an important role in an encounter with an invisible world that hurtles toward Earth, threatening to eliminate b-life for good.
I highly recommend this episode and the whole series. It’s great fun and wonderfully rich unique audio.
Enjoy a sample: Brad Lansky and the Rogue Era Trailer
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
Available to stream for the next 29 days at BBC Radio 4 is the first part of a new audio drama adapted from Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. Part 2 arrives Saturday!
Also wonderful is a half hour programme called Ursula K. Le Guin at 85: Naomi Alderman talks to leading novelist Ursula Le Guin about her life and work and hears from literary fans including David Mitchell and Neil Gaiman.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
Brad Lansky and the Alien at Planet X
(Brad Lansky, Episode 1)
1 hour 16 minutes – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Themes: / Audio Drama / Science Fiction / artificial intelligence / Space Travel / cybernetics / aliens /
It’s difficult to believe that Protophonic is ten years old. I know it is because there’s a notice on their website that says so, and, in celebration, they are giving away this remake of the first installment of the Brad Lansky series for free – for a short time. I urge you to go check it out.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. At Protophonic, the sound is the thing. Each track Protophonic produces is a rich soundscape that needs to be enjoyed using a pair of good headphones. I also recommend that you give it your full attention – turn everything off, and let this audio work magic.
As each track starts, the sound sets the scene. More than once, I was surprised by the images in my mind. How easily they appeared in reaction to the sound, and how vivid the scenes were in my imagination. Much to the credit of Protophonic, no time at all is spent in dialogue establishing the setting. Actors never say things like, “My, just look at this blue spaceport!” The rich audio in cooperation with my imagination provided the setting. Indeed, Protophonic has trusted the listener with more than a typical audio drama would, and I found it an exhilarating experience. I enjoy the feeling of collaboration, and I like knowing that my mental picture of this story is sure to be different from another listener’s. It’s also wonderful that the story both depends on and works with whatever the listener brings to the table.
This first Brad Lansky production opens with a Ship AI (called Echolocator) telling co-pilot Dieter Rothman news of a distress call. Dieter and Captain Sandy Larkin meet at the main control console to discuss the situation, and things get tense quickly. Soon after, at Shanghai Spaceport, Brad Lansky and co-pilot Alex John meet with Zara, a life-form scientist, who tells them that Sandy Larkin is missing. Lansky and John immediately start searching. What follows includes alien life, artificial intelligences, cybernetic persons, and space travel.
In short: Brad Lansky and the Alien at Planet X is a very enjoyable work of science fiction, highly recommended for superior audio presentation. This is a remake of the first installment, and there are currently four other episodes to enjoy. The last two (episodes 4 and 5) are winners of the Mark Time Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Production of the Year.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
A new release from Angelo Panetta and the good folks at the Radio Repertory Company of America!
If you like your action with a hint of humor and a soupçon of sex, then “Richmond Smokes a Joint” will make you stand up and cheer. Bursting forth from the popular “Anne Manx” series, that felonious firebrand, Jean Richmond (Patricia Tallman, “Babylon 5″, “Night of the Living Dead 1990″) is back, and taking the spotlight in her own cosmically wild adventure!
L. Sid Knee (Kris Holden-Ried, “The Tudors”, “Lost Girl”) has a secret. He knows the location of the mythical Sacred Plate of Marange. When he approaches Richmond’s ne’er-do-well boyfriend Herm (Jerry Robbins, “Powder River”, “Beacon Hill”) about obtaining the plate, the treacherous trio take-off on an intergalactic free-for-all filled with colorful crewmen, mysterious murders, dangerous double-crosses, and mommy talk.
Through its memorable characters, immersive sound design, and an original score, “Richmond Smokes a Joint” zips you from a secret safe to the caverns of Marange… where not even Richmond’s considerable wiles and cunning might be enough to make her come out alive and on top. So, strap yourself in for a dizzying science-fiction adventure so clever, even the title itself is a double entendre!
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
Ender’s Game Alive
By Orson Scott Card; Performed by a full cast
Publisher: Skyboat Media
7 hours 24 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Themes: / science fiction / childhood / aliens
Sometimes you hear about something and can’t wait to get your hands on it because you want to experience it, to touch it, see it, whatever. You have expectations and hope like mad that in the end, you won’t be disappointed.
for me, the new audio drama adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game fits the above description perfectly. The fact that Card wrote the script himself only made the anticipation worse because the bar went higher. It was raised further when I found out who was producing it: the folks at Skyboat Media. To find out whether or not they succeeded, the end result, (enemy’s gate), is down.
An important note for Ender’s Game fans, I am going to be limiting my scope to the book when reviewing this audio play. For the purposes of this review, the film does not exist. I want to tackle that challenge under its own merits. Any references to it will be made in passing if at all. With that said, our gate is open; on with the review.
The setup: a young boy at the age of six is taken from his home to attend a school for brilliant minds; to turn the “little dorklings” into soldiers and commanders because there is a war going on. This is the third such conflict with this alien race and our protagonist (unknown to him at the onset), is being groomed to be the commander that leads the entire fleet, hopefully, with good results. If not, the human race is doomed.
Our story follows Andrew Wiggin (nicknamed “Ender” by his sister) from the very beginning of his journey; even before that when the decision is made by his parents to have him with the full knowledge that this goes against the population policy in place.
“No more thirds.”
Of course, because this is the international fleet (I.F.) making the request; the rules are bent. All they have to do is sign on the dotted line and fill out the forms. If they don’t, genetic material will be seized and used until the right child is born and sent to battle school; a space station that prepares its students for lives spent as part of the fleet.
Ender’s parents are a special case because their first two children , Peter and Valentine, are geniuses. Why the first wasn’t chosen for the school, (as explained by the commander in charge), is because the kid is plum psycho. Why the sister isn’t picked is because she’d break under actual battle pressure when real losses come her way. And thus the fleet wants the parents to give it another go or else. This is the world Ender is born in. He’s at a disadvantage from the start. The running theme is, “Let’s see how ender handles it.”
The audio play does a great job of setting the appropriate pieces on the chessboard and letting the game play out. The story to tell is Ender’s story. Where it deviates from the book is the fleshing out of the interactions between the staff observing his progress. This is a necessary change since the book mostly takes place from Ender’s mind and point of view. This may seem like The Cabin in the Woods kind of gimmick but it is an important evolution in the way the story is being told. The play has to present things from a different angle and come to the same conclusions; adjusting things as needed to fit the plot’s progression.
the second major deviation is the focus on the other Wiggin children subplot. There are hints to it but it is treated almost as an afterthought. The reasoning for this change is sound; political debates and research would only drag down the story and make the listening experience tedious in places.
All in all, the major plot points of the novel are hit home like a well-aimed shot. There are subtle clues to other works that have been written since Ender’s Game came out in 1985. There are adjustments to some scenes to give the audio play a different feel than just a retreading of the original story step for step. This gives us something a little unexpected and fresh as we take the 7 hour, 24 minute journey.
If you have listened to the audio book of Ender’s Game, several of the casting choices will be no surprise. You hear a particular person’s voice and feel a sense of familiarity that makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Each character is brought to life. You know them, understand them, will not always agree with them or the decisions they make, but can listen to these portrayals and feel like you are the proverbial fly on the wall throughout the story. And when you listen to a scene as heart-felt as when Ender breaks down before his next assignment to command school, you really connect with the emotions in the room. This is how good storytelling becomes great by simply allowing the actors to raise the bar by their performances. The scenes before build up to a moment that is devastating in its impact.
The sound design and score never distract from the dialogue. And for the most part, the editing of the words spoken is top notch. Occasionally, you will hear the hum of the studio where lines were being recorded. If this issue were a constant refrain, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the play as much. As it stands, I only noticed such things myself when listening to the play a second time. That just shows you how engaging the whole packages when listening to it. Even though I noticed these issues, I wasn’t distracted.
At the end of the original audio book, Orson Scott Card said that it was the definitive way to experience his novel. With Ender’s Game Alive, that statement may (and should) be revised. It is a masterful work of audio fiction. Of course, this is in part to the source material. But the transformation from novel to audio play is not an easy undertaking. Orson Scott Card’s background in theatre shines through in this presentation; letting the dialogue drive the story forward. The many actors take on the roles and bring them to life. You won’t mind when adults are playing children. You just want to hear where the story goes. Aside for the minor audio issues, (studio hum in a couple scenes which I won’t spoil here and the inconsistent panning of characters when talking to each other), the production is definitely a recommended listen if you are a fan of Ender’s Game. I give it five out of five toon leaders; that’s one victory ritual.
Posted by Allen Sale