The SFFaudio Podcast #301 – NEW RELEASES/RECENT ARRIVALS

January 26, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: New Releases, Podcasts, Recent Arrivals 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #301 – Jesse, Scott, Jenny, and Tamahome talk new releases and recent arrivals.

Talked about on today’s show:
Reading goals and the Reading Envy podcast, spy novels, The IPCRESS File by Len Deighton is a more serious version of James Bond, film version stars Michael Caine, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, SFFaudio Podcast #95 features a discussion with Eric Rabkin about SS-GB by Len Deighton, a Britain-centered, less crazy version of Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Scott on rereading Hyperion (but hasn’t read Fall of Hyperion), the Hyperion audiobook is highly recommended, Wool by Hugh Howey now a graphic novel, Jesse doesn’t like open questions that require him to read more, Kindle Worlds, Mobile Library by David Whitehouse, Bookworm villain from Batman, The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister reminiscent of The PrestigeA Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan, some synopses are better-written than others, Patricia Highsmith, The Brenda and Effie Mysteries: The Woman in a Black Beehive by Paul Magris especially for audio, The Last Passenger by Manel Loureiro, Aurora CV-01 by Ryk Brown looks to be the perfect Scott book, this podcast features a real phaser, Hellhole by Gina Damico (not to be confused with the Kevin J. Anderson book of the same name), never underestimate evil on a sugar high, Proxima by Stephen Baxter, on how discoveries in astronomy affect science fiction, Kate Wilhelm in Orbit by Kate Wilhelm is a collection of her short stories from ca. 1966-1980 in Orbit anthologies, Scott didn’t “get” Wilhelm’s short story The PlannersSuperEgo by Frank J. Fleming, I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, Dexter in spaaaaaaace!, A Murder of Clones by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is part of the Retrieval Artists universe, first audiobook in the series produced by Scott, the series would make a good TV show, The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi narrated by Will Wheaton, Future Crime by Ben Bova, a collection of short stories, file sharing used to happen by mail, we demand the return of cassettes (not!), #GetOffMyLawn, Pacific Edge by Kim Stanley Robinson is part of a triptych, an actual utopia, Orange County of the future, Jesse and Scott met Kim Stanley Robinson at WorldCon, no kaiju, Mort(e) by Robert Repine, Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer now available in one package via Audible, “there must be something wrong with it, it’s too popular!”, Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison a.k.a. the book that inspired Soylent Green, Jenny lives on lentils and soybeans, The Deep by Nick Cutter, The Abyss meets The Shining, discussion of The Abyss which is recommended sans the last five minutes, Freedom Club by Saul Garnell, Trigger Warning short story collection by Neil Gaiman, on authors doing test runs or tryout stories to develop an idea, the difference between plotters and pantsers, The Globe: The Science of Discworld II by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen is actually a novel, Jenny debunks the theory that all stories come from an origin, Endsinger by Jay Kristoff, Marked by Sarah Fine, Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series, these books may or may not be kinky–weird kinky, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, David Hasselhoff does the musical, Markheim, a short story by Stevenson.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

May 15, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover Art for Grave MercyGrave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers; Read by Erin Moon
Publisher: Recorded Books
Publication Date: 3 April 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours 14 minutes
Themes: / historical fiction / assassins / medieval / politics / young adult

Ismae, our protagonist, is a teenage nun assassin in fifteenth-century Brittany. That descriptor alone, issued by a guest on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, was enough to hook my attention and reel me into listening to this book. The term “nun assassin” alone, evoking a strong sense of cognitive dissonance, is rife with narrative potential. Mix in some fantastic elements of ancient gods  masquerading as saints and set the whole thing against a late medieval backdrop, and you would seem to have all the ingredients for an entertaining, emotional, and perhaps even thought-provoking novel. Unfortunately, Robin LaFevers’s young adult novel Grave Mercy falls short in almost every regard.

The novel opens with great promise. Ismae finds herself rescued inexplicably from an arranged marriage and whisked away to the convent of Saint Mortain, who, in LaFevers’s universe, is the ancient Britonic god of death who lives on in the guise of a Catholic saint. She quickly gains acceptance as one of Mortain’s servants and begins her training as an assassin. We meet several of her Sisters in training, who show immense promise as complex, complicated characters. Ismae immediately shows promise in the deadly arts, especially in the brewing of poisons. The stage is set for a Potteresque term of training, comeraderie, and schoolyard intrigue. I very much wanted to read that book.

Unfortunately, we are soon whisked three years into the future just as Ismae receives her first assignment as a full-fledged assassin. Easily dispatching her first victim, she then undertakes a much more difficult assignment at the behest of the Abbess. This task throws her smack-dab in the middle of Brittany’s courtly circle, where the young Duchess struggles to fend off both French invaders and equally persistent suitors. Under the pretense of serving as mistress to Duval, the Duchess’s bastard brother, Ismae must try to sort out the tangled web of politics and allegiances.

Wait, what? Where’s my Bildungsroman? I was looking forward to a classic coming-of-age story, but instead find myself listening to a book of court intrigue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with court intrigue, of course, except that most of the members of court in Grave Mercy are utterly forgettable, and those who do show a spark of personality don’t receive much stage time. There are no Lannisters or Starks here. Characters from the novel’s tantalizing early chapters hardly receive a second mention. The plot simply doesn’t hold together.

My second complaint is more subjective: the novel just isn’t rooted enough in fantasy. Mortain, the ancient god of death who marks his targets for the sisters of the convent, is potentially a fantastic character, or at least a useful construct, but sadly we learn about him and him only indirectly. Had we been treated to more time at the convent, we might have learned more of his mysterious ways. The novel also hints that other old gods also live in LaFevers’s Brittany, and presumably the remaining novels in the His Fair Assassin series shed more light on their nature. This volume, however, resembles historical fiction more than fantasy.

Despite its medieval setting, there isn’t much in the writing and themes that bear much resemblance to the writing or thought of the Middle Ages. The prose, while capable and at times even captivating, feels thoroughly modern in its tone and diction. The characters converse in a colloquial style that feels sterile and devoid of even the veneer of medieval cultures that most authors apply when setting stories in this time period. Ismae is an empowered young woman of the 21st-century variety, and the undertones of trauma and survival also have a modern ring to them. LaFevers is writing for a young adult audience, which in theory should make these choices easier to swallow. I grew up reading authors like Tolkien and Kipling and even Shakespeare, though, so I don’t buy into the assumption that fiction should be diluted for young readers. I’m not saying that this was necessarily LaFevers’s explicit intension, but rather that the current YA culture subconsciously encourages these trends. The genre’s very existence, to some extent, proves my point.

Erin Moon’s mellifluous narration makes Grave Mercy a pleasant listening experience even if the story itself is uneven. She captures Ismae’s quavering sense of vulnerability, and gives distinct voices to the other characters, at least to the extent the writing allows. Her pronunciation of French place-names, with one or two minor exceptions, is pretty much spot-on. Nothing ruins an otherwise-perfect audiobook like even a few pesky mispronunciations. So even though I wasn’t always captivated by the story, Moon’s performance kept me listening to the end.

As I look back, I’ve tried reading several assassin-themed fantasy novels: Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, Brent Weeks’s The Way of Shadows, and Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study. This is the first one I’ve actually finished. Assassins should make for compelling, dynamic characters spinning taut webs of dramatic tension. But for some reason they have always fallen short in this reader’s estimation. Maybe my subconscious finds them somehow inherently distasteful, or maybe the kinds of stories they find themselves in just aren’t to my liking. Take that into consideration in my review. If you like assassin stories, you’ll probably find much to enjoy about Grave Mercy.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of Indexing by Seanan McGuire

May 9, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover art for Indexing by Seanan McGuireIndexing
By Seanan McGuire; Read by Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 4 March 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours
Themes: / metafiction / urban fantasy / fairy tales

I’m usually opposed to quoting the synopsis in my reviews–it’s just fluffing my word count! But I’m not even going to try to explain the premise of Indexing myself, so this time I’ll let the synopsis do all the heavy lifting.

“Never underestimate the power of a good story.”

Good advice…especially when a story can kill you.For most people, the story of their lives is just that: the accumulation of time, encounters, and actions into a cohesive whole. But for an unfortunate few, that day-to-day existence is affected—perhaps infected is a better word—by memetic incursion: where fairy tale narratives become reality, often with disastrous results.

That’s where the ATI Management Bureau steps in, an organization tasked with protecting the world from fairy tales, even while most of their agents are struggling to keep their own fantastic archetypes from taking over their lives. When you’re dealing with storybook narratives in the real world, it doesn’t matter if you’re Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or the Wicked Queen: no one gets a happily ever after.

Indexing is New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s new urban fantasy where everything you thought you knew about fairy tales gets turned on its head.

As the author of both the October Day series and, under the pseudonym Mira Grant, the Newsflesh trilogy, Seanan McGuire is no stranger to writing urban fantasy. But, as you may have deduced from the blurb, Indexing is not your run-of-the-mill hot vampire-on-werewolf ménage-a-trois urban fantasy. Instead, it’s populated with fairy tales. Here be Pied Pipers, Frog Princes, and Mother Gooses (Geese?) in spades. In the moribund desertscape of urban fantasy, Indexing is a cool refreshing garden grown wild with novelties. McGuire’s writing is dynamic enough to play fair with both the here-and-now realities of an urban setting and the timeless terrible beauty of fairy tales. Like quicksilver, the tone can glide from spunky 21st-century dialogue riddled with F-bombs to an ethereal transcendence full of snow and moonlight.

The presence of stories come to life in the world of Indexing places it squarely in the realm of metafiction. In fact, the book takes its title from the very real Aarne-Thompson Index, a comprehensive listing of folktale types compiled in the early twentieth century. In the land of metafiction, Indexing has some pretty affluent neighbors, such as Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler and Jorge Luis Borges’s The Library of Babel. Unfortunately in this regard the book fails to measure up, like that rundown house you drive by on your street and mutter about how you wish the neighbors would cut their grass. The premise itself is intriguing in exactly the way that speculative fiction is supposed to be, but the underlying worldview is overly pessimistic. In this story, Narrative itself is a character, or at least a vital force, trying to impose itself onto our order of reality. According to the world of Indexing, this is almost always a very bad thing, something that needs to be stopped. The novel’s closing chapters bring to light some extenuating circumstances that lend this structure a modicum of feasibility, but the reader still comes away with the sense that our world is better off without fairy tales made manifest stalking our streets.

As I write this, it occurs to me that this bothers me so much because it’s at odds with why I read speculative fiction in the first place. I firmly believe that these stories really do make our world better, in a very tangible way. I’m not saying we should unleash every fictional character on the streets of New York–there would probably be utter chaos. But there would be hope too. There would be Aragorn, for example, and Optimus Prime, and–you get the idea. The influx of story into our own world, “mimetic incursions” as they’re called in Indexing, needn’t always be the harbingers of misery and ruin. In fact, I think I took personal offense at the book’s denigration of stories. And then, of course, there’s the added irony that we’re actually reading, or listening to, a story. Just what sorts of mimetic incursions will Indexing spawn, I wonder. Ahh, the joys of peeling the layers of metafiction, kind of like an onion, but pointier and more slippery.

To be clear, my criticism of the novel’s metafiction is purely ideological. Leaving those aside, McGuire tells a damn good story. The pacing ratchets up the suspense like a mystery novel, and the writing, as I said, is sturdy as a house made of bricks. (See what I did there? Three Litle Pigs reference? Okay, never mind, on with the review.) And even if the book’s metafiction elements are problematic, its exploration of storytelling does succeed on a psychological levee. Narrative psychology and therapy have become buzz words in the last twenty years, and on both individual and cultural levels  we do think of our lives, both individually and collectively, as stories. In that sense, the main characters of Indexing become archetypes for ways in which people deal with their stories, their past, their trauma, whichever psychobabble catch phrase you like. Some fight it, others embrace it, while still others have more of a story than they think they do. Like most good speculative fiction, Indexing succeeds because of its powerful characterization.

Mary Robinette Kowal, a weaver of fantastic tales in her own right, shines as Indexing‘s narrator. Her performance of Henrietta Marchen, a recovering Snow White through whose eyes we see most of the book’s events, is at once confident and vulnerable in perfect measure. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard a female narrator quite reach the baritone depths that Kowal does when she voices the burly Andy Robinson. The only blemish in the performance is her portrayal of Sloan Winters, whose incurably foul mouth is already grating enough without eery sentence curling up at the end like a skunk’s tale. Perhaps Kowal is simply trying to instill in us, the listeners, the same distaste that Sloan’s teammates feel towards this Wicked Sister. But that’s the only cloud in the sky. The glamour of Kowal’s voice captures the capricious fairy-tale heart of Indexing.

In spite of my significant ideological qualms with the book, I thoroughly enjoyed McGuire’s foray into the world of fairy tales. There’s no indication that a sequel is in the works, which is a shame. I’d gladly spend more time with this world’s colorful characters and fairy tales, morose and morbid though they may be. And I would dearly love to learn that Narrative isn’t so bad after all.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of 1634: The Baltic War by Eric Flint and David Weber

May 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover art for 16341634: The Baltic War
By Eric Flint and David Weber; Read by George Guidall
Publisher: Recorded Books
Publication Date: 17 September 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 26 hours 20 minutes
Themes: / alternate history / time travel / military

1634: The Baltic War, although a weighty volume in its own right, is but one stitch in the giant tapestry that is Eric Flint’s sweeping Ring of Fire series. The series imagines the tumultuous Thirty Years War in seventeenth-century Europe disrupted by the arrival of a small West Virginia town sent back in time from the year 2000 by a freak cosmic accident. As masterfully told in the series opener 1632, the injection of modern technology and ideas into this bleak post-Reformation world has immediate and far-reaching consequences. The synopsis for 1634: The Baltic War illustrates just how much things have changed.

The Baltic War which began in the novel 1633 is still raging, and the time-lost Americans of Grantville – the West Virginia town hurled back into the seventeenth century by a mysterious cosmic accident – are caught in the middle of it.

Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden and Emperor of the United States of Europe, prepares a counter-attack on the combined forces of France, Spain, England, and Denmark – former enemies which have allied in the League of Ostend to destroy the threat to their power that the Americans represent – which are besieging the German city of Luebeck.

Elsewhere in war-torn Europe, several American plans are approaching fruition. Admiral Simpson of Grantville frantically races against time to finish the USE Navy’s ironclad ships – desperately needed to break the Ostender blockade of the Baltic ports. A commando unit sent by Mike Stearns to England prepares the rescue the Americans being held in the Tower of London.

In Amsterdam, Rebecca Stearns continues three-way negotiations with the Prince of Orange and the Spanish Cardinal-Infante who has conquered most of the Netherlands. And, in Copenhagen, the captured young USE naval officer Eddie Cantrell tries to persuade the King of Denmark to break with the Ostender alliance, all while pursuing a dangerous romantic involvement with one of the Danish princesses.

This overview gives a sense of the novel’s sweeping scope, both geographically and in terms of content. In some ways, this book and the series as a whole brings to mind Neal Stephenson’s ambitious Baroque Cycle, but while Stephenson’s work focuses on scientific and cultural developments Flint and Weber, at least in this volume, are telling a story of war. This isn’t to say that culture is absent from the chapters of 1634. Indeed, the novel draws both insight and humor from the juxtaposition of modern popular culture and European values. In one early scene, for example, a concert features classic Baroque harpsichord followed by a modernist piano concerto featuring music by Chopin and closing with twentieth-century Christmas songs. It’s also amusing to hear Europeans try and puzzle out exactly who this Elvis Presley character was.

While, as I said, 1634: The Baltic War is a military novel, and does feature occasional scenes of violence and hardship, overall its tone is light and even casual despite the depth and complexity of the book’s subject matter. While this renders the book almost instantly accessible, I can’t help but feel that at times the lack of gravitas fails to do justice to the enormity (in its original sense) of the Thirty Years War. To return to the previous comparison, Stephenson’s writing in the Baroque Cycle is much more opaque and, well, baroque, but the style seems to suit the subject matter. On the plus side, the story benefits from Eric Flint’s considerable experience in writing alternate history along with David Weber’s military background. Despite the world’s massive scope, every corner of it feels lived in and fleshed out.

George Guidall takes on the arduous task of bringing together seventeenth- and twentieth-century characters and cultures in this melting pot of a novel, and as usual Guidall is up to the challenge. From the brusk military clip of Admiral Simpson to the slight lilt of the larger-than-life Gustavus Adolphus, Guidall makes every element of the story from both past and present come alive.

Listeners who love military fiction, alternate history, or time travel can’t go wrong with 1634: The Baltic War, though to fully appreciate the novel they would do well to begin with the first installment in the Ring of Fire series, 1632. As perhaps is inevitable with a series of this magnitude, there are flaws and aspects that fail to please. But this book is only one chapter in what might just be Eric Flint’s magnum opus.

Posted by Seth Wilson

Review of A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

February 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

A Discourse in Steel Cover ArtA Discourse in Steel
By Paul S. Kemp; Read by Nick Podehl
10 hours 11 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio
Published: 2013
Themes: / sword and sorcery / magic / adventure / fantasy city

My first encounter with the sword-and-sorcery genre came when I discovered Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, neatly packaged into audiobooks at Audible with introductions from no less a figure than Neil Gaiman. How could I refuse? While Leiber’s world-building was top-notch, though, I found fault with his lack of any real character development. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Seth, characters in a sword-and-sorcery novel aren’t supposed to be developed!  While I agree in principle that the genre is supposed to thrive on antiheroes like Michael Moorcock’s Elric, there’s a vast difference between making an intentional authorial decision not to develop characters, or to develop them in an unconventional way, and simply neglecting the care and feeding of a protagonist. Of this I found Leiber guilty. So I set the genre aside in hopes of finding a specimen more suited to my predilections.

Enter Paul S. Kemp’s Nix and Egil series. The eponymous heroes (it’s almost impossible to call them antiheroes) are, respectively, a sprightly little man of craft and cunning from the slums of Dur Follin, and a hulking, hammer-wielding priest of Ebenor, the momentary God. At first glance, you would be forgiven for mistaking this pair for Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, or, perhaps if you squint, Terry Pratchett’s Bravd and the Weasel. But where Leiber’s adventurers are often gray as the Mouser’s name, Kemp’s likable rogues flash and sparkle like a colored prism, reflecting and refracting their personae as the wheel of the story turns. And speaking of the city of Dur Follin, its twisting alleys, Low Bazaar, taverns, and guild houses are every bit as well-realized as Leiber’s Lankhmar.

I rediscovered fantasy in my teens through reading David and Leigh Eddings’s mammoth epics. While I now recognize that much of their work was middling at best, I still admire their capacity to write charming, amusing, and at times poignant dialogue. Kemp has honed this particular skill to a keen edge. The playful, good-natured banter between the two unlikely companions will have you laughing out loud one moment and pondering the mysteries of life itself the next. Their friendship is deep and genuine in the way that so many fictitious friendships simply aren’t. Nix and Egil each have their own past, present, and (it is to be hoped) future. Their hopes, fears, and regrets are writ large in the story’s pages, and this emotional element propels A Discourse in Steel beyond the mark of mere adventure into territory that far too fantasy novels explore.

You’ll notice I’ve said nothing of the plot. This is partly because I cordially dislike plot regurgitations in reviews, but also because the plot is, in a sense, unimportant. I don’t mean to suggest the plot is bad. In fact, it’s well-paced, intricate for a novel of this length, and not without its little surprises. But one comes away from reading this book with a sense that the plot served mostly as a backdrop for exploring these two remarkable characters, like set decorations in a theater performance. Of course, if all this emotional and philosophical discussion makes your eyes glaze over, and you just want to read fun stories of swashbuckling adventure, fear not, A Discourse in Steel has them in spades, or hammers. As you can probably tell by now, I am more captivated by the character development, and sometimes felt the plot barged in on a real moment of heart, but I confess that most readers will find the novel’s plot and pacing perfectly measured.

The novel isn’t without its faults. Nix and Egil are masterfully developed, but the book’s other dramatic personae, with a couple no notable exceptions, lack that same fit and finish. The villains, in particular, come across as fairly one-dimensional, even though they get a lot of stage time. Rusilla and Merelda, the tale’s damsels in distress, fare slightly better, especially towards the end, but as the series title suggests, this is the Nix and Egil show. The novel also flags a bit once the plot maneuvers the characters out of the stress of Dur Follin, which as a city is complex enough to be a character in its own right. To paraphrase one of the characters, Nix and Egil seem to belong in Dur Follin, and watching them out of their element, like fish out of water, takes a moment’s adjustment. The book’s last fault, if you could call it that, is that it ends too soon, leaving several key questions unanswered, questions about Egil and Nix, questions about the city of Dur Follin, and questions about the wider world beyond.

The audiobook is narrated by Nick Podehl, who, to me at least, has become synonymous with epic fantasy in audio, thanks in no small part to his narration of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. His bag of vocal tricks just seem to be a natural fit for the genre. He is able to glide smoothly between Egil’s rumbling curses and Nix’s falchion-sharp witticisms, and during the action sequences his sense of timing is impeccable. Podehl is the narrator equivalent of what’s called in Hollywood a character actor. He lacks the star power and name recognition of a Simon Vance or a William Dufris, but if you’ve listened to many audiobooks recently, you’ve probably heard his voice. He certainly does justice to Kemp’s work.

A Discourse in Steel is the second Nix and Egil adventure, but it can be read on its own, though its predecessor, The Hammer and the Blade, is nearly as good. I’m grateful to the efforts of Paul S. Kemp and his creations Nix and Egil for showing me that the sword and sorcery genre can embody both style and substance. Maybe it’s time I revisit Leiber and the other S&S greats; maybe I’ll find they’re not as soulless as I thought.

Reviewed by Seth Wilson.

Review of Ender’s Game Alive by Orson Scott Card

February 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Cover for Ender's Game Alive

Ender’s Game Alive
By Orson Scott Card; Performed by a full cast
Publisher: Skyboat Media
Published: 2013
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

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